As a pediatric physical therapist working in an early intervention setting, I spend a good amount of time on the stairs. Steep stairs, wide stairs, narrow stairs, wooden stairs, carpeted stairs, baby gate, no gate, one flight of steps, steps broken into two segments, rail on left, rail on right, no rail at all, no steps at all! I’ve studied construction of steps almost as much as my contractor father. I’ve also learned that parents have as many different views on steps as they do on nutrition and discipline. Some are so fearful of their child falling down steps that they are off limits all together. Others refuse a baby gate reasoning that the steps are there so they need to learn to be safe as soon as possible. And then there is everything in between.
If you are a parent with a child ready to take off (and up and over the horizon) of the steps in your home, we have a few tips to share:
- Allowing your child to learn to crawl up and down the steps is am important pre-curser to walking them. It allows for the cognitive experience of learning the depth of the step, the distance, the texture etc. through exploration of movement and touch.
- Before you let your child crawl up all the steps, let them practice crawling up and down one small “step” in the middle of the room – diaper boxes and small plastic bins work beautifully.
- Like stepping, crawling down is typically harder than going up. Moving backwards without relying on your vision to see where you are going is not natural but is the safer option rather than scooting facing forward! Modeling to baby (siblings or yes, you yourself) can help!
- Children may chose to walk up and down with both hands on the wall or rail (side stepping) or one (forward stepping). One is not better than the other – allow what feels natural to the child.
- SAFETY is essential. We encourage use of baby gates until your child is proficient and that an adult always stands below the child when practicing.
- Often times, especially with carpeted steps, the flight of steps appears as one big ramp to children. This may be particularly true if there is any visual challenges with depth perception. Lining the steps with colored masking tape or duct tape and placing a favorite sticker in the middle of each, may help highlight each step as individual and make the task of walking down less scary (and maybe even fun).
Just yesterday I was working with a child who would walk up the steps but not down. Her mother described her as “a mule,” digging her heels in and refusing to walk down no matter what motivators the family tried. Problem is, she is getting too big to carry down the steps. I know she is strong enough to descend a step because she does so with a single step into the home and for fun off an exercise step. So we lined the steps with tape yesterday and placed a snow man sticker on each and she literally walked down on the first try!
I hope that these few simple tips make stair climbing fun and safe within your daily routines. We devote a generous portion of our gross motor cards (the pretty green ones) in 1-2-3 Just Play With Me to stair walking. If you don’t have a copy, make sure you get yours today! We share detailed milestones in 5 developmental domains with fun, purposeful play suggestions in a simple practical format – perfect for a parent or pediatric professional!