How Old is He? Encouraging a Child with a Gross Motor Delay

How do you encourage walking with a child that has a gross motor delay? What are some games that encourage walking?

I’m sitting at church and Smiley Man needs a diaper change. It’s a familiar scene when you have a one year old. ;) I grab a diaper and wipes out of my purse and give the “diaper change eye” to Mr. Remarkable so he knows where I’m going. I leave him and Little Bear in the chapel and go into the hall with Smiley Man. I see a long hallway before we’ll get to the Mother’s Room (nursing and diaper changing room). “Perfect,” I think, “I can help Smiley Man practice his walking while no one is out here.”

I put Smiley Man down on his two feet close to the wall so he can use it for balance, then take his other hand and we start walking down the hall. He’s doing pretty well. He still leans on my arm for every step, but he’s only holding on to the wall every few steps or so. His left foot is pointing sideways instead of straight so I try to correct it with my foot. This throws Smiley Man’s balance off quite a bit, but he’s still doing okay.

Smiley doesn’t like the flash on my camera. :)

Pretty soon I notice there’s another mom at the end of the hallway with her little girl. Her daughter is just a baby who’s clearly just been happily fed. The mom smiles at me and we introduce ourselves. We are in the same ward (church unit), but have never met before. We make a very little bit of small talk and as she looks down at Smiley Man I brace myself for the inevitable.

“So, how old is he?” It’s the tone that gets to me. The familiar tone that questions my mothering ability. As always my head fills with a thousand thoughts (Yes, my son is old enough that he should be walking. Yes, I am aware of this. No, I don’t neglect him. Yes, we work on it every single day. And if you want to make me cry, yes, I do think it’s my fault (can’t ever get rid of that mom guilt). I start to calm down after that split second of defensiveness and my thoughts become more logical. (Okay, she probably assumes that I know Smiley should be walking, but just wants to make sure I do. She’s just a mom, she wants to make sure Smiley is being taken care of. She can’t help her mom instinct.)

After what seems like minutes, but was only 1-2 seconds, I take a deep breath and start the conversation. “He’s 16 months. Yeah, he should be walking by now, we’re working on it.”

This part is always inevitable, too. I don’t know why, but it also really bothers me. She says, “Oh, that’s okay. Some kids just take longer to learn. I have a nephew/cousin/friend/coworker/brother/sister/mom (insert any number of random people here) who’s son/daughter didn’t walk until he/she was much older.”

I think, “Don’t try and pretend like nothing is wrong. Something is wrong and that’s okay, but this isn’t a problem I can just ignore.” I say, “Well, he is pretty far behind. It’s not just that he’s not walking. He really behind in the whole gross motor area and has been since he was born. It just wasn’t that noticeable until he turned 1. He has a physical therapist though, who works with him twice a month. He’s made great improvement with her.” I don’t know why, but it always makes me feel better saying that he has a physical therapist. I guess it just shows that action is obviously being taken to help Smiley. I’m not ignoring the signs.

To be honest, when most people ask about Smiley, I’m usually just glad that they asked instead of just stared. I don’t mind the questions (although I do usually always have the initial defensive thoughts, I’m working on it). Yes, Smiley Man is behind. He has a gross motor delay, but I know that right now I’m doing everything I can to help him and if other people don’t think that’s enough, that’s their own problem.

I have to say though, there is the occasional glare or shake of the head that makes me think, “For goodness sakes people, he’s just delayed in the gross motor area. He’s using words and is very affectionate and can drink from a cup and actually is doing well in the fine motor area. It’s not like he has an extra arm! Leave my baby alone.”  Luckily, those times are rare.

So, what are some games we’ve played to encourage walking:

Stickers on the Wall

I put stickers (old ones that aren’t as sticky so they don’t ruin the paint) on the wall right at Smiley Man’s eye level. I put them on about a foot apart all at eye level. I help Smiley Man to stand up against the wall and touch the first sticker and make a funny noise when I touch the sticker. Then I touch the next sticker and make the same funny noise. I encourage Smiley Man to slide his feet so he can get to the next sticker and push it. We continue until Smiley has gone down the entire hallway touching stickers.

Keep Standing Up

This game is not really a specific type of activity. You can use any number of toys. We use a pom-pom push it in, a push the button and the animal pops up toy, shape sorting toy, a toy piano, and bean bags that fit in a basket. Hold the toy up so your child has to stand to play with it. If he/she cannot stand up alone, have someone spot him/her, but encourage standing as much as possible. The point is to distract your child into standing up. When he/she gets better, you can move one foot slightly in front of the other as if they’ve just taken a step. If they do take a step forward, cheer and move the other foot in front of the other and continue playing.

Chair and Couch Back and Forth

Put a chair about 1 foot away from a couch. Use the same toys from the last activity. Put all the pieces onto the couch (pom-poms, shapes, bean bags). Put the container on the chair (bowl, shape box, basket). Have your child take one piece at a time from the couch, then turn around and grab onto the chair and put the piece into the container. At first your child should always hold onto either the couch or the chair. As you are playing, slowly move the chair further away from the couch. Eventually, your child will have to reach the chair without holding onto the couch and may even have to take a step. I always know when I’ve moved the chair just a little too far back because Smiley Man starts crying and sits down.

Practice

This is the one we’re doing a lot right now. I simply hold one of Smiley’s hands and we walk all over the place. Down the hall, around the kitchen table, around the yard, to the bedroom. We walk anywhere I can think of. At first Smiley needed to be holding two people’s hands on either side, then he just needed one hand and a wall. Now he just needs one hand. Hopefully we aren’t too far away from actual walking!!

If your child is behind and you’re getting overwhelmed, just remember he or she will walk someday. As long as you are practicing, don’t give up! Sometimes there will be weeks where it seems like nothing has changed. That’s normal. Last of all, NO MATTER WHAT, don’t blame yourself!!! And don’t tell me I’m a hypocrite, I already know that. ;)