Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

January 30, 2017

Physical Therapy: Climbing Stairs Around-The-House with Katie Eggleston DPT


Katie Eggleston DPT, physical therapist at the Pineville office of Child and Family Development, emphasizes that we can improve our health and build motor skills not just in a physical therapy session or gym, but in everyday events and activities already happening around the house. In January, she shares:

Here is a general timeline for mastering stair climbing:

  • Crawling up stairs by 9-12 months
  • Walking up steps placing two feet on each step while holding a rail or parents hand by 18 months
  • Independently walking up stairs with two feet on each step by 24-30 months
  • Walking up or down steps placing one foot on each step while holding a rail by 2 years, 7 months- 3 years
  • Independently walking up or down stairs with one foot on each step by 3 years 

Katie shares that children often go up first- ascent comes before descent!  Parents may see scooting, crawling or sliding down stairs even if they can walk up. Children with access to stairs in their homes were more likely to learn to ascend stairs at a younger age, but all children are equally likely to descend at the same age, regardless of access to the stairs.

Parent/ caregiver involvement is key for safety and encouragement.  To help a child master stair climbing:

  • An adult must always be present for safety.  
  • Baby gates should be installed at the top and bottom of staircases until independent mastery has occurred. Cover any openings (banisters e.g.) to prevent accidents or escapes.
  • Encourage gross motor development of climbing by letting infants crawl over couch cushions on the floor, benches, crates or even parent’s legs.
  • When intiitally practicing on stairs, hold both of the child’s hands. Progress gradually to one hand hold and one hand on rail, then one hand on rail and one on wall.
  • Start with just a few steps up and down, rather than tackling the whole staircase at once.  This can be intimidating and scary for kids.
  • If a child is unwilling to climb with one hand on the rail and one hand free, giving them a toy to hold in the free hand.  The toy can be motivating and distracting.  
  • Use visual targets on the steps! Print out pictures of feet or put stickers on the steps to indicate the path.  
  • Encourage strengthening of both sides equally. Typically, a child will lead up stairs with their stronger leg and lead down stairs with their weaker leg. Practice with both feet.

Katie recommends a National Institute of Health article titled ‚ÄúHow and when infants learn to climb stairs‚Äù here.