Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

November 20, 2015

Building Developmental Skills: Is your child struggling to walk up and down stairs?

Image result for child walking up stairs

Amy Sturkey LPT is a physical therapist at the Midtown office of Child and Family Development.  She regularly works with toddlers and their families to build gross motor developmental skills, such as walking up and down stairs.  Here are her suggestions for how and what to monitor and practice with your child.  Many parents of little ones tell out physical therapists that watching their toddler master stair climbing can be nerve wracking.

Amy’s advice is:  Encourage your child to be curious and adventurous, but also ensure that they have proper strength and coordination to safely climb up and down stairs. What many parents may not realize is that, for a toddler, going up stairs is much easier than coming back down. Notice your toddler make their way up a staircase, but have no way to get themselves back down. Most toddlers will master walking up the stairs before they can walk back down.

General timeline that most children follow when it comes to stair climbing:

  • On average, by 9 to 12 months, children can crawl up stairs.
  • On average, by 18 months to 2 years, children can walk up and down steps two feet per step, while holding a rail or one hand.
  • On average, by 2 years to 2 years – 6 months, children can walk up stairs independently, two feet per step, without any support.
  • By 2 years – 7 months  to 3 years, children can walk up and down stairs, one foot per step, while holding a rail.
  • On average by 3 years, children can walk up and down stairs, one foot per step, with no support.

As a general rule, most children should be able to walk up and down stairs independently and alternating feet by the end of their third year.

Learning to climb stairs should be done under the close supervision of an adult. Provide close by assistance as your child climbs up or down stairs. Here are a few ways that you can help your child master stair climbing.

How to help:

  • When first learning to climb stairs, children are most supported when both hands are held by an adult. They will then progress to success with one hand held with the other hand holding a rail. Children can then move onto holding only a rail, followed by one hand placed on the wall, and eventually will walk up and down stairs with no support.
  • Often children want to keep both of their hands on the rail when they are learning stairs. If you want your child to practice with only one hand on the rail, give them a soft toy to hold in one hand so that only one hand is free to hold the rail.
  • Before attempting an entire staircase, practice going up or down the last one or two steps up or down the stairs first. When your child is comfortable walking up or down the last couple of stairs of a staircase, slowly start to add in more stairs.
  • When walking up or down stairs, children often arch backwards, relying too heavily on a nearby adult for support. Help them keep their head over their lead foot when walking up and down stairs.
  • If your child is practicing hands free stair walking, always stay close below your child as they climb up or descend stairs in case they lose their balance and fall.
  • To help your child walk up or down stairs while alternating feet, tap each leg as a physical cue and point to the next step.
  • As a general rule, children lead with their stronger leg when walking up stairs and lead with their weaker leg when walking down stairs.
  • If you notice that your child always prefers to lead with one particular leg, try placing a sticker on the shoe of the non preferred leg. When it is time to step, tell them it is time for ‚Äústicker foot‚Äù to take a step.

Need help?

If you want help with these suggestions or notice any of the above mentioned warning signs, a physical therapy evaluation can determine if your child is simply showing normal variability in gross motor development or if your child can benefit from intervention. 



Brown, Stephanie. “When can my child start walking up stairs?.” N.p.. Web. 18 Feb 2013. <>.

Robin, Suzanne. “Helping toddlers with walking up and down stairs.” The Bump. Demand Media. Web. 18 Feb 2013. <>.

“Warning signs of a toddler’s physical delay.” Baby Center. N.p.. Web. 18 Feb 2013. <>.