Baby’s Brain in Week 47
It’s thrilling to watch your baby go from crawling to cruising to walking independently. When she first begins to walk, she will be wobbly and fall often, but tumbles will not stop her. Walking is too exciting for even the most timid child to give up on! Several factors are key to walking: It takes upright posture, leg alteration, muscle strength, weight shifting, a sense of balance, and lots of practice for Baby to get moving on her own two feet. All this—plus perceptual input from the environment as she navigates various surfaces—are necessary before your baby bravely takes her first step.
What the Research Shows
In one experiment, researchers demonstrated how these developments flowed together by arranging for infants to move up and down ramps of varying steepness. (They were interested in the babies’ locomotion, a term used to describe the act of and ability to move from place to place.) The researchers studied the children as crawlers at eight and a half months and then as walkers between 12 and 13 months. New crawlers spent lots of time exploring the surface of the steeper ramps and exhibited much caution. They had difficulty adjusting their movements to steeper slopes. Experienced crawlers worked out efficient ways to crawl up and down the slopes, such as inching their way slowly; some would not attempt the steeper ramps at all. Beginning walkers experienced great difficulty with even a gently sloping ramp. When more experienced walkers encountered a gentle slope, they climbed it without hesitation. And when facing a steeper slope, they sat and slid down it, reverted to crawling, or backed down slowly on their hands and knees. This research shows what it really takes for a child to become a stable (or off-and-wobbling!) walker: the maturation of motor and perceptual skills and a whole lot of experience. Not only are crawling and walking exciting times for parent and child—they’re also emotional experiences. Researchers were interested in how parents of newly mobile babies felt about this milestone. In interviews, such parents reported hugging their children tighter and, in contrast, expressing anger toward them, most likely out of fear for the child’s safety given his new mobility. The crawlers and walkers themselves expressed anger more frequently and intensely when their efforts to achieve a mobility goal were frustrated. Indeed, getting started with getting-up-and-going can be trying for everyone involved!
Week 47 Brain Booster
The hard-to-swallow truth is that crawling and walking mark the beginning of children distancing themselves from their moms and dads. Today it’s toddling away at the park; soon it will be riding away on a tricycle, then a bicycle, and then much later (gasp!) the family car. As emotional as these times may be for you, however, be sure to give your child the opportunity to become competent at navigating both her home environment and other places she visits. Stay near for safety’s sake, but allow her the chance to practice and develop mastery in locomotion. Though she may never thank you herself—and despite incidental daily owies that make you cringe—your child will be on the move!