When your baby has mastered the art of sitting and crawling, he'll most likely aim higher and higher until he finds himself on his feet. Although you may be hesitant to have him tackle trying to stand, it's important to give your child time to gain his independence and bear some weight on his own legs—usually around 8 months old. Standing on his own is an important milestone, and although it sounds easy, it requires strong legs, knowing how to bend at the knee, and being able to shift his own weight. Once he's able to get up, he also has to learn how to sit back down again.
While most kids can stand steady around 8 months, don't be surprised if your tiny tot displays earlier balance. "It is not unusual at all to see this occur earlier. In fact, with a baby who is progressing normally, I recommend encouraging them to put weight on their legs as you hold them around the trunk or place them in a [stationary jumper] as early as 5-6 months," says Jenna Zervas, MSPT and founder of Baby Builders. "This activity helps stimulate the joint receptors which tell the baby where his body is in space."
Holding your baby's chubby hands as he wobbles on his feet is adorable, but he'll need full-body strength training to get ready to walk. "In these earlier months, it is much more important for the baby to spend most of his time playing on his tummy, learning to crawl and balance in sitting as these activities will build the muscles necessary to stand, and later walk," Zervas explains.
The skills needed to stand don't happen overnight, but you can be proactive when helping your baby stand. Skip buying a walker—according to the Academy of Pediatrics, they're safety hazards that actually eliminate the desire to walk. Instead, give your baby a leg up with activities that'll strengthen his legs and give him the freedom he needs to develop standing skills.
- Exercise. Physical activities make for quality one-on-one time. You may be tempted to pull your little one to standing position with his hands, but the ideal support should be around his chest. According to Zervas, this approach is more developmentally beneficial. "By providing support in the trunk you are allowing them to use and strengthen the muscles in their trunk which they use to balance."
- Bounce. Your little one is a ball of energy, so take advantage of that bounciness! Place your baby's legs on your lap and encourage him to bounce up and down, while you support him. Music will make this even more fun, since most babies love syncing their rhythmic movement to the beats. This will allow him to build leg muscles, practice shifting his weight from one leg to the other, and hone some serious dance floor skills.
- Let him loose. Floor time is crucial to learning to stand, so let him explore. When you give him the freedom to move around, chances are he'll take it, reaching out for objects he can pull himself onto, whether it be a table or chair. If he does reach out for support, make sure the object is free of sharp edges, properly weighted down or securely attached to the floor or wall, so it can't injure him.
- Peek-a-boo. Who doesn't love a game of peek-a-boo? Make it even more productive when he's in his crib. Hide behind the bumper or a blanket and ask, "Where's Mommy?" Chances are, your baby will love to play—and may even try to pull himself up by the railing to find you. Even if he's not strong enough to hoist himself up yet, you're sure to get a rewarding giggle.
- Encourage with toys. Toys are bright, loud and designed to attract children—so let your tiny tot's trinkets do the work for you. Try placing a toy out of his reach to motivate him to move, or place his favorite blocks on top of a low table so he's forced to pull himself up to reach them. Stay close by in case he teeters and totters, and childproof any pointed table corners to be safe.
- Play with others. It's healthy for babies to be around their peers, so set up a play date or attend your local library's toddler activities to cultivate your little one's curiosity about other kids. If he watches other babies pulling themselves up and standing on their own, he might imitate what he sees.
- Cheer him on. Be your child's biggest cheerleader. Every time your baby manages to stand, be sure to cheer him on. Encouragement goes a long way, so by giving a clap, a smile and a few words of encouragement, you'll be supporting a positive self-concept, and providing him the opportunity to be proud of his accomplishments.
By encouraging your baby to stand, you're not only helping him reach a physical milestone, but a cognitive one as well. "Mentally, standing stimulates the brain by providing a change to his environment," Zervas explains. "He is now able to see, touch, and interact with different things in his environment than he could on the floor. This stimulates his brain to learn, and creates more synapses in the brain."
The first year is full of milestones and a growing self-confidence, from learning and discovering new things. By overcoming these challenges, he'll know that he can tackle any obstacle that may be heading his way—like walking!