A newborn baby is limp and floppy. His neck is like a ragged doll, and his head lolls forwards or backwards depending on gravity. Obviously, the first important milestone necessary in order to progress further (to sitting and standing) is neck control, which comes by 4 months age when his neck stays in the same plane as the body.
The child will roll from back to front at 4-5 months and from front to back at 5-6 months. During this time parents should be careful as their baby in sheer pleasure and excitement of doing something new may inadvertently roll to the edge of the bed or even beyond it, right from the centre of the bed. During the same time, the child in a prone (stomach down) position can rest his weight on the forearms first and later can lie with his body supported on his extended arms.
A child is usually able to sit unsupported by 7 months (he can sit with support 1-2 months earlier than this). If held standing, the child will start bouncing up and down with joy. But while sitting, he still cannot turn his body from side to side, which comes at 8-9 months.
At 9-10 months, the child starts creeping or crawling on all fours, just like an animal puppy. It is during this time that the mobility of the child truly increases as he can now go from one spot to another, a thing that he was unable to do so far. Thoroughly enjoying his recently achieved freedom, the child can pull things from their “hitherto protected areas”, and thus break or damage objects, much to the anguish of the parents. Sometimes the child may hurt himself in the process. He may even “rummage” in dustbins etc. At this time, it appears to the hapless parents that nothing is safe from their “constantly on the prowl” child! They try to put things out of reach of the child, i.e. at a higher place; where also the child using his ingenuity can sometimes reach by climbing on chair etc.
At the most, parents can do some “damage control exercises” because I am quite sure that in every household, some or the other thing is pulled down by the roving infant thus breaking or damaging it. More importantly, the parents should be careful during this stage that he doesn’t injure himself.
Next comes the “cruising” stage i.e. the child first of all pulls himself to stand by grasping hold of some furniture like the table etc. and then starts cruising around it; moving hand by hand over it and foot by foot on the ground, i.e. he moves sideways. Gradually as his level of confidence increases, one fine day, he lets go off one hand and thus is able to cruise around with only one hand for support.
Another fine day, while he is too engrossed in some absorbing act, so much so that he forgets that his one hand should be on the furniture for support, he may let go off it, thus freeing his other hand also. He may do so temporarily without realising what a daring act he has done! But this is the stage, when with his feet planted apart and he maintaining a “shaky” balance with both his hands off any support that he has become ready for walking as he has now acquired the fine sense of balance.
And so arrives the milestone, an important milestone that the parents were waiting for i.e. walking. It comes at about 1 year of age. It is an interesting act to watch. The infant will stand with his feet planted wide apart, knees slightly bent, both his arms flexed at the elbows in front of him. Then he will take a small and very cautious step forward and the entire torso rotates with it, the toes may point in or out and the foot strikes the floor flat.
Then he will stop in order to regain his sense of balance. Once he again feels secure, he will take another small step forward. Gradually his sense of balance and confidence grows and he starts walking more freely with his feet apart and hands in front, aptly called the “waddling” gait. In the initial stages, when the baby has learned to stand and summons enough courage to put a step forward, the parents can encourage him by staying 2-3 steps away from the baby and then urging him to come to them.
The baby secure in the presence of the proximity of the parents takes a step forward and ultimately, by trial and error learns that even if he falls, he won’t get hurt as he is going to “crash land” in his parents’ arms. After several weeks of practice and experience, the child’s centre of gravity shifts back and the torso stays more stable, the knees extend and the arms stay at the side of the body and swings for the sake of balance.
During the initial stages of walking, all babies topple and fall down, and invariably all of them end up with some bruises, scratches etc. But all types of injuries sustained by the child during learning the art of walking are fortunately minor. So the baby forgets them soon and again starts his “practice” of learning to walk. It appears that the pleasure that the child derives from trying out new things and the feeling of pride and satisfaction that he derives out of mastering a new art far outweighs the minor unpleasant experiences like bruises and falls associated with mastering such an art.
A child usually starts to walk freely and with full confidence by 18 months of age. Toddlers are often described as being “intoxicated” with their newly acquired power to control the distance between themselves and the parents. They will “orbit” around the parents, moving further and then returning for a reassuring touch. In strange and non-familiar surroundings, this “orbit” might be small or non-existent i.e. the child simply clings on to the parents; in familiar surroundings, the child may “orbit” out of sight.
At round about 2 years, the child can run and also climb up and down the stairs. At 4 years, the child can hop and balance himself with one foot off the ground. The next important gross motor milestone, skipping, usually comes by the age of 6 years.