It seems like parents today are inundated with information about milestones their children should be meeting. There’s too much online information that falsely frightens new parents about their child’s developmental growth. Toe walking (walking on the balls of their feet without their heels making contact with the ground) is one of the things concerned parents come in to talk to me about, so I’d like to demystify this particular issue.
Children Develop at Different Rates
If you have three children, I would almost bet that they all start talking at different times. They probably all rolled over at different ages. They probably all pulled themselves up at different ages, and it’s likely that they don’t all start walking at the same age either. The point I’m hopefully making is your child is not like any other child, so if, when he or she starts walking on their toes and this goes on for a while, it’s probably OK.
Feeling it Out
Your baby is learning so much. How to eat, how to talk, new words, emotions, reading facial expressions and trying to understand tone – they can’t even (cleanly and easily) feed themselves yet. Is it that strange that when they start walking, they might try different methods at first? Oftentimes, this is what toe-walking is. Despite what several (unscientific) alarmist websites or some moms at the playground might say, toe walking is not always a sure sign of autism or a neurological problem. In fact, toe walking is usually a sign that your baby is trying to get the hang of walking and is searching for a way that’s comfortable.
It’s also common for kids to toe walk on a bare floor, or to help them go faster. Some toe walking even runs in families.
Generally, toe walking isn’t a concern until your child is about 3, when most children start walking with a heel-toe pattern. But even this age isn’t a concrete indicator. A recent study with 1,400 participating children showed that more than half of these children stopped toe walking on their own by age 5. The bottom line is that if your child is developing normally without any other indicators, toe walking is not likely to be a cause for concern.
When to See Your Doctor
There are some instances that should be checked by a pediatrician, however. If your child is exhibiting any of the following symptoms in addition to toe walking, consult your doctor:
- Poor coordination
- Stiff muscles
- Trouble with fine motor skills
- Loses motor skills they previously had
- Seems unable to bear their own weight while flat-footed
- Was born prematurely
- Previously walked flat-footed and then regressed to toe walking
- Has a family history of neurological disorders
Don’t get inundated with poor information. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, the best person to consult is your pediatrician.
Dr. Melanie Williams is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic. Her clinical interests include developmental disorders and delays, blood disorders and normal development of babies and toddlers.