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TL;DR: my 17 month old son could walk 10 - 20 steps two weeks ago. But now he refuses to walk. What should I do to encourage him?

Long version: my son had some serious eating problem when he was 8 month old and this lasted for around 6 months. So we accept that his development is far behind his peers. He has not walked independently yet, and currently has only 6 teeth.

However, 2 weeks ago he started learning to walk. At that time, he really enjoyed his new skill, and he could walk on his own from 10 - 20 steps. That was in the weekend. He goes to daycare on weekdays, and in the following week, after coming back from daycare, he walked less and less. And now he just refuses to walk, in fact he seems afraid of walking.

I have no idea what happened to him at the daycare. Perhaps he tried to walk and fell down very badly.

Question: how do I encourage him to walk again?


@anongoodnurse: Yes, he still likes cruising, but he is crawling most of the time. He doesn't pull himself onto his feet, but he will walk a little bit if we hold his hand.

  • Is he back to "cruising" (walking along by holding onto the couch/other things)? Is he crawling to get where he wants to go? Is he pulling himself onto his feet? Does he stand in your lap? Or is he steadfastly refusing to stand on his feet/legs? These details are important. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jul 25 '18 at 14:18
  • @anongoodnurse I added the details. Thank you. – qsp Jul 25 '18 at 17:27
  • Anything out of the ordinary physically? A sore foot, blister, or turned ankle? Some minor injury might cause him discomfort when he tries to get up. – Pam Jul 25 '18 at 19:47
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If your child has reverted to cruising and crawling, you're probably right that something happened to make him more cautious, though that's a bit surprising, as toddlers who fall usually don't much care, just getting up and trying again. You might ask of the daycare folks if your little one had a significant fall while there, and explain that he's likely to need a little more help to get around.

When a baby has a setback, go back to the point where they were last successful and work from there. You can encourage cruising by putting tempting things on the couch just out of reach from a crawling position on the floor. You can also borrow/buy a learning walker (like the 'Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker') which he can hold on to while walking to give him a bit more confidence in getting around on his feet.

As others have said, walking while holding his hands will help, but what he really needs is confidence in his ability to stand on his own two feet without falling. Games are helpful: you can sit a few feet apart from your spouse and play come to mommy/daddy and cheer when he walks (reward him with smiles and approval if he just chooses to crawl as well. It's a game and should be fun) or while seated, stand him up between your knees and count seconds that he stands on his own, cheering him on. Make sure to catch him if he starts to falter.

A couple of other things might help. Let him pull himself to a standing position on your leg before picking him up when he wants 'up', and when you put him on the floor, put him down in a sitting (not crawling) position. Let him do the work of getting into the crawling position (strengthening core muscles.)

Having said all this, when you are concerned, a call to his doctor is always in order. If there is a setback for a medical reason, better to find out sooner than later. Don't be embarrassed to take your baby to the doctor for "little things". To parents who have struggled with a problem in infancy, almost nothing is "little" (i.e. of little concern), and good doctors understand and work with this.

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Discuss with your family doctor and daycare staff; then encourage

17 months is at the top end of when children learn to walk (citation) and if your son is struggling, he might feel left behind at daycare. I'd recommend at least a discussion with your family doctor and also the daycare staff.

Some encouragement from yourselves would also help here - praise him for progress, however little.

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As you said, maybe he fell at daycare. Maybe "all that walking thing" is not so exciting for him.

If your Doctor doesn't see any medical reason to be worried, just give credit to your son. He can walk, he just does not want to!

Another parent with a similar question came back to us with this closing comment:

"The breakthrough seemed to be getting her a pair of real shoes: she got really excited about them and wanted to wear them all the time."

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Help him

You could try to help him by letting him hold on to your hands, which will give him stability and trust, since he trusts that you won't let him fall.

I suppose there is no lack of encouragement, for example the other parent clapping and cheering on him at the other end of the room. From what you write regarding the possible fall at daycare, it does seem that what he could most benefit from is removing (or significantly diminishing) the risk of falling by holding on to one adult, which in turn will make him want to practise more. Practice will surely bring quick progress.

Then, whenever he feels ready, you could let go of one hand (although not all kids like walking by holding one hand only at that age; my daugther didn't. She went from two hands to walking on her own).

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