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The Competent Parent: Toddler in training

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Toddler in Training

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My son has just started walking, although most of the time he’s holding my or my husband’s finger to steady his balance. He occasionally spends time with his grandparents and uses his grandmother the same way. This has been going on for three months. The problem is, he won’t sit and play like he used to – only a few minutes, then he says “walk!” and reaches for a hand. My house is starting to look like a hurricane came through because I can’t pick up after him (or the dog or anyone else) like I used to. If I try to put him off he gets so upset I give in and let him have my hand. My mother-in-law says she just waits until he leaves to put her house back in order, but at our house, the daily debris is piling up around us.

Chained at the Fingers


Click here to read Dr. Debbie opinion on compulsory school attendance.


Dear Chained,

Steady walking is a monumental skill which some children gain more quickly than others. The head of a toddler is about 1/3 of his body weight. If you look at the height of his head compared to his body, you can see how the chances of toddling over are pretty high. Considering the adult head weighs about 10 pounds, imagine how a 120-pound person might walk with a fifteen-pound bowling ball resting on each shoulder. Your son will grow a couple inches per year for the next couple of years, mostly in the legs and torso, but the head doesn’t need to grow nearly as much. By the end of his growing years, the head is only about 1/10 of his height. So for now, his big heavy head requires the unsteady walker to use furniture and, as you describe, obliging big people to help keep himself upright. When he lets go, typically both his hands are held at shoulder height or higher so as to break a fall before the heavy head hits the floor. A quick “sit” sometimes can save him, but even with a well-padded rump, the new walker tries to avoid a crash landing.

This training period could be a few weeks or several months. Often the toddler gets anxious when one of his regular walkers leaves his sight because he knows his mobility is impaired. Many toddlers-in-training refuse to crawl any more. So if their only means of transportation – a steady hand on steadier legs – isn’t operating, or dares to leave the room, they protest vehemently. So take heart, like most challenges in child development, this stage will soon pass.

Not that a competent walker will mean the end of your house mess issue! From a developmental perspective, try to minimize the things that are “messable” in the reachable area of dogs and children. By age five, children don’t need to touch – and move – everything in sight. We’ll save that discussion for another column!

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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