My baby is 10 months old and is pulling herself up to stand. What motor skill developments can I expect next?—from a mother in class
MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT OF BABY STANDING
Every parent is excited to see their baby pull herself up onto her feet. This is a sign that the stage of infancy is soon coming to an end and toddlerhood is on the horizon. However, there is still much for baby to learn and develop from the skill of standing up to the skill of walking. For example, once baby learns to stand up she often learns an improved way to stand. Sometimes she begins standing up on the side of her ankle, or by pulling herself up with her arms and keeping her legs straight. We show baby how she can stand up by placing one foot on the ground and stepping on it to lift her up. This uses the bigger and stronger muscles of the legs and hips and encourages healthy development of the foot and ankle joints.
SKILL REVERSIBILITY: BABY STANDING TO SITTING OR CRAWLING
After baby stands up, she will need to learn to sit down again on her knees or her behind. Reversing the skill of standing up is very important. Sometimes babies cry after they stand up because they do not know how to get back down again. If a baby has crawled a bit before standing up it will be easier to get back down on the knees or to sitting because it is a familiar place for them in their nervous system. She will need to bend her knees to get back down on the floor. A considerable amount of baby strength develops with this action of standing up and squatting to a sitting or kneeling position. Think of it as baby squats.
BALANCE AND BABY FOOT DEVELOPMENT
The motor skill development of standing is most significant for it’s placement of baby on her feet for the first time. Baby’s bones and muscles in her feet will develop strength and she will develop her ability to balance during the action of standing up and just standing there. It is important to understand that when baby stands up and does not move, significant development is occuring in her feet. Look down at her feet and watch them wiggle a bit as she develops her balance. You may see her toes curling under a bit at first and then soon they can elongate onto the floor once her balance is more secure. Holding onto a chair or coffee table (that is baby proofed) is essential for baby to feel stable during this time. Holding onto your hand is not stable enough. Wait until she is walking on her own to hold her hands in the standing position.
WEIGHT TRANSFER: MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT OF SIDE CRUISING
Once baby is stable on her feet she will be motivated by her curiosity to take some side ways steps. This is the motor skill of cruising, also called “side cruising.” The steps are taken sideways as she faces a chair seat or a low table to hold onto for stability. This movement develops the ability to transfer her weight from one foot to another. This presents additional challenge to her balance, coordination, and strength. Place a light weight object such as an O-Ball on the table or nearby chair so she will be motivated to move toward it. If she throws it on the floor it is not heavy and will not hurt her foot. You can develop this into a game for baby of throwing the O-Ball off of the chair.
BALANCE DEVELOPMENT: “LOOK MA, NO HANDS!”
After baby spends time in the skill of side cruising, she will gain the strength and confidence to let of of the table and stand on her own two feet without holding on to anything. Watch her feet as she stands. This is a tremendous skill advancement and further develops her balance. You will know when this skill is emerging when she can hold onto the table with only one hand and turn and look behind her or off to one side.
WALKING INDEPENDENTLY: FORWARD STEPS EMERGE FROM THE CRUISING
After baby’s balance improves so she can stand without holding on, she will begin to take forward steps on her own. You might observe that during her side cruising, she may turn a bit sideways and take a few forward steps mixed in with her sideways steps. This is the motor skill of walking beginning to emerge. Once she has the balance, coordination, and strength to take forward steps without holding on to a chair or table she will do so. We call this motor skill independent walking because she is walking on her own. You may see parents holding the baby’s hands to help her walk, but I recommend NOT holding her hands. Your hands are not as stable as a table and she will feet unsteady. Look down and you may see her toes curling under to help her figure out how to balance. After she has been walking a bit on her own, then you can hold her hands to keep her near you. She will walk on her own when her muscles and bones are ready and when she has the confidence and security to do so.
I have a 4 month old baby and I don’t feel like we have been doing a good job of allowing tummy time. He has great head control and is starting to do much better with tummy time. He has not great interest in rolling over yet, but has shown some signs that he may start to. When we pick him up to put him in our lap he extends his legs and assumes a standing position which he seems to enjoy quite a bit. I have been able to hold his hands while he maintains his standing position, is this something that I should start discouraging or is it OK as long as I allow him to dictate whether or not he wants to stand? On several occasions he will seemingly stand from a supported squatting position. I just worry that I am doing more harm than good.
-From a concerned father
Stellar Caterpillar Answers: What a great question you have asked! Thank you. It is good to hear that your baby has strong neck muscles for head control and is learning to enjoy tummy time. At his age, these are two of the most important motor milestones he could learn and practice. They develop baby strength and prepare the body for motor skills to come much later such as crawling and standing. What is important to understand is that every baby has a reflex that makes them put their feet down in the standing position when they are held over your lap. By “reflex,” we mean that baby does not want to stand, he has no choice but to stand.
Please read the following two posts to learn more about baby reflexes:
Often, the baby smiles when put in standing on his feet while in your lap. This is because they like being on eye level with you. If you put him on his tummy and get down on the floor on your tummy too, he will enjoy looking at you when he lifts his head. And this is a better choice developmentally. Please keep in mind that baby needs to strengthen his bones as well as his muscles before he can stand. At 4 months old it is too soon to stand. Thanks again for your question. There is so much to learn about their development!
TEACHING BABY THE MOTOR SKILL OF STANDING
QUESTION FROM A MOTHER IN CLASS:
My pediatrician recommended that we now set my 10 month old son’s toys up on the seat of a chair instead of on the floor in front of him so he will learn to pull and stand. But, when I do that, he gets frustrated because he does not know how to get back down. What should I do?
STELLAR CATERPILLAR’S ANSWER:
REVERSIBILITY OF THE MOTOR SKILL OF STANDING
He is still learning to crawl on his hands and knees, so he is not quite ready to stand up. When a baby learns to stand up, he must be able to reverse himself by returning to a hands and knees crawling position or a sitting position as he goes back down onto the floor. If those positions are not familiar to him he may feel a bit of panic. Wait a couple more weeks before encouraging the motor skill of standing. This will allow him time to crawl on his hands and knees which he is learning. You can discuss this with your pediatrician as well. Read some of our posts on cruising to see some videos of babies pulling up to stand, cruising, and then sitting back down on the floor again.
ALIGNMENT OF THE MOTOR SKILL OF STANDING
The hands and knees position also teaches his nervous system to place his legs under his hip joints. This develops excellent alignment. When he stands up his legs will be more stable because they will be more under his hip joints. You can also play a game with him where you place a box in front of him that is turned upside down. Put baby on his knees in front of it and teach him to play it like a drum. He will enjoy the game and it will be giving his system a clear feeling of placing his knees on the floor. This increases the familiarity of the position through which he will pass when going up and coming down from standing up.
BABY INDEPENDENCE AND MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT
He is only 10 months old. Many babies do not walk until they are 14 or 15 months old. He still has time. What is important is that he has time in each developmental milestone so he can benefit from what each motor skill teaches his body. Then when starts standing up he will be stronger, have improved alignment, feel more stable, and be more emotionally confident that he can get in and out of that postion on his own. This is independence.
WHEN CAN BABIES STAND?
During his lesson, the eleven month old baby grabbed his grandmother’s trouser pants and proudly pulled himself up to a standing position. The grandmother was very tempted to congratulate him, but she knew better. She was wise enough to take his hands back down to the floor. “Not yet,” she quietly said, “Wow! That is good crawling.” She praised the motor skill activities appropriate for the moment.
Parents are eager to see the day that baby grabs onto their leg to pull himself up to a standing positon. This means the day he will walk independently is soon approaching. There is no question that the motor skill of standing up is one of the most celebrated baby milestones. It signals the end of infancy is approaching–the transition from moving on all fours to standing and walking on two feet.
IS BABY STANDING TOO EARLY?
Sometimes baby learns to pull up to a standing position too soon, before his bones and muscles are strong enough to support him. In this situation, it is best for the parent to take his hands back down to the floor and tell him it is not time to stand, and it is still time to crawl. It is very beneficial for baby to crawl for several weeks before standing up. For many years, experts in the field of child neurology and development have researched and shown that crawling is very important for the development of the brain. Give baby plenty of time for crawling. The baby milestone of crawling strengthens his bones and muscles, improves his coordination, and develops his brain.
3 REASON FOR BABY STANDING EARLY
There three common reasons why baby tries to stand before crawling:
- Baby is imitating an older sibling.
- Baby attends daycare where older babies are standing and walking.
- Baby spent time in equipment such as a jumper that put him on his feet too soon.
Remember, babies learn by imitation. They are motivated to do what everyone else around them is doing. If baby is around an older sibling or older children at daycare, often he will try and stand too soon. With parental encouragement to continue crawling or to learn to crawl, baby will understand that crawling is the better choice. Through offering a lot of praise when they crawl, baby will understand this is the preferred milestone for now.
The answer to “When do babies learn to stand up,” is “After they crawl for awhile.”
The “Wisdom” series presents observations spoken by experienced grandmothers that should be heard by all mothers.
PARENTING ADVICE FOR BABIES AND MILESTONES
A very wise mother, grandmother, parenting coach, and mother/infant group faciliatator loves to share the tips parents find most helpful. Founder of a parenting group in 1978, she has many years of experience working closely with new mothers. Our conversations often turn to the coaching of motor development, the main focus of stellarcaterpillar.com. I often describe how common it is to see parents of babies as young as two months holding the babies on their laps while bouncing them on their feet. She often exclaims while shaking her head, “Bouncing her on her feet?!? At 2 months!?!” She is clearly horrified by these stories. What emerges from each of these conversations is one of the most prized pieces of wisdom yet from the grandmothers, “We knew NEVER to put a baby in a position or movement that the child could not do on his own.”
BABY DEVELOPMENT IN EACH MILESTONE
Following this teaching parents would understand why the following activities/contraptions are detrimental to baby’s motor development: bouncing baby on her feet, holding her under the armpits while walking her forward, and putting her in the jumper, exersaucer, or bumbo chair. These devices force baby into positions or movements that baby is simply not capable of doing on her own. Her bones and muscles are not strong enough. Parents can instead learn what each motor skill is teaching baby and understand why there is no need to rush her through this developmental process. Baby will emerge from infancy with more strength and coordination if given time for each major milestone such as rolling and crawling.
BABIES FIND JOY IN LEARNING MOVEMENT
This grandmother’s wisdom echoes the philosophy of stellarcaterpillar.com. We emphasize giving baby clues which trigger the motor program in the brain so she does the movement all on her own. What a reward that is for baby to discover something new that she can do all by herself! The happiness you see on her face is proof that one of the greatest joys in life is learning to do a new movement! As time goes on this includes learning to ride a bike, throw a ball, dive into the swimming pool, hit a baseball, jump rope, and more. And this is where it all starts: infancy.
Parents must learn how the popular exersaucer impacts the development of a baby. The “goal” of this baby toy, according to the marketing, is to “help strengthen baby’s muscles for standing and walking.” Parents often love this item because they put baby in the center and then their hands are free for a while…what a relief!
EFFECT ON THE MUSCLES: FATIGUE AND SPASM
Although baby seems quite content in this contraption, he has no choice. Unable to change his body position or to sit when he becomes tired, his muscles fatigue and spasm (stiffen). This leads to stiffness of not only the legs but also of the torso, making it more difficult to move. Baby is stuck in a position where his view of his feet is blocked, making it more difficult for him to feel his coordination of moving his feet and leading to accidents. Unfortunately, numerous exersaucers have tumbled down stairs with baby in them. The coordination of walking is very important, and it involves using one foot to push off the ground and shift your weight onto the other foot. The fixed seat position of the saucer limits the movement of the pelvis and hip joints making it impossible for baby to properly push off the ground. This may result in difficulty later in running which requires even more of a push off from the ground, since the motor coordination in the brain was not properly learned.
EFFECT ON THE BONES: STRESS AND WIDENING OF HIPS
The bones of baby are quite soft and flexible. The process of baby learning to stand and walk takes about a full year because not only do the muscles need to develop strength, but the bones do as well. Baby’s bones are getting stronger with every crawl and every step. In a forced weight bearing position, such as standing in the exersaucer, the stress on the bones is much more difficult to reverse or correct. The width of the seat presents another problem for the bones, as it may be too wide for the size of baby’s pelvis and hip joints, forcing the hip joints to widen and leading to reduced stability in walking.
EFFECT ON THE BRAIN: IMPROPER COORDINATION
The motor skill of walking requires the muscles and bones, but also the areas of the brain controlling leg movement. Think of the brain as the command center for our voluntary movements. The locomotive skills of crawling, cruising, and walking require an alternating pattern of the legs and feet: Right, Left, Right, Left. This is the pattern that the brain learns and executes as a result of movement experiences where the legs are alternating. When baby is forced to stand, baby learns to reflexively put out both feet at the same time rather than alternate feet. And as we discussed, baby does not learn to push off of the ground to shift his weight forward.
BETTER OPTIONS FOR PREPARING BABY TO WALK
If your goal is to assist baby in standing for developing muscle strength, read the Stellar Caterpillar blog entries archived under “standing” and “walking” for alternative games to play with him at home. If you need to have your hands free, put baby in a playpen where he can choose what movements to do while being kept safe from harm. Otherwise, put baby down where he has a lot of space to explore. As baby moves around on his own he is strengthening muscles and bones while getting his power to move from pushing off the ground. Soon, with nature’s guidance, you will have a shooting star!