Movin’ On Up: A Step-by-Step Guide to Motor Development

June 4, 2018

Let’s face it: a newborn doesn’t do much. But a 1-year-old? That’s an entirely different story! In just 12 months, a floppy infant morphs into a perpetual-motion machine. Along the way, she’ll learn to sit, scoot and stand. Read on to stay one move ahead of the game.

1. Pushing up.
Your baby won’t be able to push himself up until he’s strong enough to lift his head, usually around 2 to 3 months. Soon after that, you’ll see him try to use his arms to lift his torso, too. His first attempts will bring him only partway: while on his tummy, he’ll raise his head, prop himself up on his elbows and look around. By 6 months, he should be able to push up onto his hands.

Pushing up requires practice. Most babies hate being on their stomach, but tummy time is absolutely necessary for muscle strength and control. “I encourage parents to put kids on their tummy from Day 1,” says M. Michael Eisenfeld, M.D., a pediatrician at All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Want to help? Try laying your baby on your belly as you relax in a recliner. Seeing your face will give him an incentive to push up.

2. Rolling over.
The first time your baby rolls over—at around 4 to 6 months—she’ll probably be as surprised as you are. “She’ll push up on her tummy, then push up on her hands and shift her weight,” says Alice Anderson, a pediatric physical therapist in Dallas, Texas.

Whether your baby rolls front-to-back or back-to-front first, expect a learning curve. She’ll have to figure out how to get her arm out of the way and learn how to replicate a motion she may have discovered by accident. When you see your baby starting to roll, help position her arm at her side or lift it over her head so she can make it all
the way over, says Eisenfeld.

3. Sitting up.
Babies start to sit at around 6 months. At first, he’ll hunch over with his legs splayed, hands in front of him on the ground to prop himself up. Gradually, as his balance improves, he’ll be able to sit upright and begin to lift his hands. By the time they are about 7 months old, most babies can sit and hold a toy at the same time.

Sitting doesn’t come naturally—you’ll have to put your baby into position. “Sit him upright and give him just a bit of support,” advises Eisenfeld. “Then slowly move your hands away, staying by to catch him if he falls.” Keep it interesting. “The hard part, for some kids, is staying focused on what’s in front of them,” explains Eisenfeld. “They want to move, instead.” Give your child something to hold onto, or make silly faces at eye level.

4. Crawling.
While most babies crawl sometime between 7 and 10 months, plenty crawl later or never move on their hands and knees. Some experts believe that this is an unintended side effect of the “Back to Sleep” campaign. “When the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending that babies sleep on their back to prevent sudden infant death syndrome, babies began to spend less time on their tummy,” says Anderson. “That’s made a difference in when children reach certain milestones, and one of those is crawling.” Luckily, doctors don’t think it’s important for babies to crawl as long as they find a way to get around and eventually walk.

Traditional crawling requires the coordination to shift a hand and a leg at the same time as well as the motivation to start moving. But some babies scoot on their butt, roll or wriggle forward on their belly, instead. You can help: lay your child on her stomach and spread a couple of her favorite toys just out of reach. Cheer her on as she finds a way to get them.

5. Walking.
Before your child can walk, he has to learn how to stand. Expect him to pull himself up at around 10 to 12 months. He’ll cruise around the furniture, and when he’s ready—anywhere from 10 to 15 months—he’ll let go.

Once he’s able to pull up, he’ll work on refining his balance and developing his gait. Make sure he has soft-soled shoes for walking outside and a safe area to explore. Babies like to use their toes to grip the floor, so if you’re inside let him go barefoot.

Allow plenty of time for free play. Move some toys to a higher level. If everything is on the floor, your child has no incentive to get up and stand—except, of course, to reach all the tempting things you thought were out of reach!
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