Mastering Motor Skills

Heredity plays a role in when kids develop movement skills. So if you were a late walker, your little one is apt to be, too. But there’s more to it than DNA, Girolami says. Without ample opportunity to move and practice, even the most genetically gifted child can lag behind.

Translation: A toddler who is constantly confined to a car seat, stroller or play yard probably won’t be fi rst in his playgroup to climb stairs or go down a slide. Neurologists aren’t sure why, but motor skills delays are on the rise, warns Tim Craig, an early childhood development specialist in Van Nuys, Calif. “At least 10 percent of the kids we see have motor defi ciencies,” Craig says.

According to Girolami, the Back-to- Sleep campaign that has been effective in reducing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) may be one factor. “When babies don’t spend enough time on their bellies, they’re slower to develop the muscles needed to push up and crawl,” she says. Likewise, they can develop asymmetries through their trunk and lower extremities that affect their ability to move. Current AAP recommendations call for supervised “tummy time” for infants to help build strength.

Meeting milestones

Developmental milestones can help you gauge your child’s progress. But it’s important to remember that they’re based on averages, says pediatrician Jennifer Shu, M.D., editor of American Academy of Pediatrics Baby and Child Health (DK Publishing, 2004). So while most kids walk between 12 and 15 months of age, some start as early as 8 months and others aren’t ready until 18 months. “Every child develops at a different pace,” Shu says. “There are always going to be kids who are earlier or later.

As long as a child is progressing, even if it’s slow, we consider it normal.” Even more important than when your child meets each milestone is how she performs the skill, Girolami notes. “As a therapist, I don’t just look at whether a baby is walking,” she says. “I look at how he’s walking. Is he placing weight equally on both feet? Does he walk on his toes?”