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When Can My Child Start Walking up Stairs?

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Question: When Can My Child Start Walking up Stairs?
A parent asks:
I'm wondering when my toddler will start walking up stairs without getting hurt. We have several staircases in our home that are blocked off with gates and we have a set of front and back stairs outside that we are unable to protect with a gate. I'm so nervous when she's outside that she might fall down the stairs. When will she be able to go up the stairs by herself?
Answer:

Crawling up the Stairs at 5 - 12 months

Just like babies crawl before they walk, it's usually how they first start to conquer the stairs, too. And it's the way you should encourage your child to take the stairs until she is more confident on her feet. At this stage (which could start as early as the day your child starts to crawl if stairs are nearby) you should keep stairs protected with gates. When your child is attempting stairs, you should always offer close supervision. Most children at this age will have an easier time making it up the stairs and may even get stuck once at the top.

Walking up the Stairs with Help at 12 to 18 months

When your toddler starts to walk, at first, she will still likely want to crawl up and down the stairs. Try getting her to go up the stairs while holding both your hands and continue doing this as she is comfortable and able. At first, it may seem like you are literally lifting her from stair to stair without much effort on her part. Then, she'll start to move one leg up to a step and the other leg will follow to the same step, with the process repeating. Eventually, after much practice, she'll start to gain more balance and may even try to let go of your hands. If you let her try letting go while remaining right there to catch her, she'll be able to see that she still needs your help.

Taking Stairs One Step at a Time at 18 months to 2 years

Once she starts to get her balance and is taking the steps one step at a time with you holding both hands, you can start to introduce her to the wall and / or handrail. This way, you've got one of her hands and she's learning proper safety procedures on the stairs. If the rail is too high, it's better to allow her to brace herself against the wall than to try to reach up too high. She will continue to go up and down the stairs, one at a time with support from a wall, rail and one of your hands, until she is around 2 years of age. You will still need to offer her close supervision.

Easier up the Stairs Than Down the Stairs - 2 to 3 years

At some point after your child's second birthday, she will begin to go up and down the stairs supported only by a handrail. You will notice that she masters going up the stairs this way much sooner than going down the stairs this way. Long after she's bounding up the stairs, you may notice that coming down is still a slow, deliberate affair. That's OK. Encourage her to take her time and emphasize safety over speed. You may see beginnings of your child starting to alternate feet going up the stairs around 3 years of age, especially if the steps are not that high.

Alternating Feet on the Stairs

The skill of alternating feet while climbing up or going down the stairs isn't very refined until sometime around the end of your child's third year. Full mastery of this will not occur until about a year later, possibly as late as 5 years of age. So don't feel like your toddler is behind and don't encourage your child to rush up or down stairs, no matter how late you're running in the morning.

Keeping Safety Measures in Place

As you can see, mastering the stairs is a long process with many different stages. For this reason, it's important that you keep safety measures like gates and other blockades in place. Make sure handrails aren't loose and are installed at a height that's comfortable for your child. Give your toddler plenty of practice going up and down stairs, but be close by and offer assistance as needed. Don't try to carry heavy objects like grocery bags up the stairs at the same time as you're offering a hand to a toddler. Get your toddler up the stairs and secure her in the house first, then grab your other load.

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