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Anticipating First Steps—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Life has been anything but normal with a baby added to our family just before lockdown last March.

She’s mostly been at home with free run of any room that I or my husband might be in. Lately she’s been pulling herself up, using furniture or our legs, and I’m wondering about the next step in baby proofing that this will require. 

Almost Eleven Months

Dear AEM,

By now you have gotten in the habit of keeping floors clean, have removed choke hazards from a crawler’s reach and have blocked access to all electric outlets. Stairs have been blocked off and or thickly carpeted. Anything that could cause her harm, or that she could harm, should have been relocated to a higher plane. 

Babyproofing also involves baby welcoming.

A baby between crawling and walking is motivated to move to reach objects she’d like to investigate. Does each room have ample “toys” at floor level to captivate her attention? Bins, baskets, and low, open shelves are perfect for holding ready the things she can learn from. In a kitchen this can include shelves or drawers with plastic measuring cups, lidded containers, and other baby safe playthings. A couch with removable cushions adds an extra challenge to crawling and climbing as she navigates across the floor.

Time to Elevate

As your little one starts to pull herself up to a standing position, this is the time to asses the next level up. Your strategy is to simply elevate the lowermost limit of the “no touch” zone by about two feet. If you want to skip the next re-arrangement in about two years, in anticipation of a curious preschooler, go ahead and child-proof a little further up in height. Or better yet, consider whether objects in a room should be within reach of a child of any age. Important paperwork, the fireplace lighter, cleaning products, alcoholic beverages, sharp kitchen knives, etc. qualify as items for adult access only.  Put these out of reach and out of sight.

For the next couple of months your upright baby will seek out support from a couch, a coffee table, a bookcase, or anything that appears, in her mind, to be sturdy and steady. She may have imperfect assessments of this situation. Therefore, soften the fall zones where she will land with (secure) carpet runners, especially if the floor isn’t already carpeted. Add bumpers or corner pads (also known as corner guards, corner protectors, and corner cushions) to right angles on the coffee table. Novice walkers often get “goose egg” bruises on their foreheads from toppling near hard objects so take a critical look around. If you sit on the floor you may spot potential temptations and hazards from her eye level. 

Offering a Helping Hand

One of the handiest aids for walkers-in-training is a set of her parents’ hands. She can grip two adult forefingers in her two fists as she focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. This phase may last a few weeks, so be kind and take turns to spare the strain on your lower backs! Alternative walking aids include well-designed toddler shopping carts, a child-sized chair, or the obliging family dog. Consider trip hazards in your child’s path and preemptively move them.

Interestingly, as excited as parents get about a baby achieving upright mobility, this is a big deal for the baby, too. A beginning walker is very focused on maintaining her balance while calculating the distance to the next safe support to grab.  Bear in mind that one third of her body weight is in her head, so a crash landing is likely. This is intense work for her. You may notice extra fussiness. She may appear to forget her first words (and baby signs, if you’ve been using these) while the task of mastering the coordination of walking on two feet consumes her concentration. 

Some child development experts have compared this psychological milestone to the exhilaration experienced with obtaining a driver’s license or landing one’s first paying job. There’s no going back. In fact many babies refuse to crawl once they start taking their first uncertain steps!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Register for Dr. Wood’s next parenting workshop on Zoom on Tuesday, February 9.

Read more of her Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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