From rolling over to running on the playground, your little one’s balance steadily develops during the first years of life. It’s all thanks to their developing vestibular system, or our internal sense that’s responsible for balance. This incredible system is what helps toddlers refine their movements and become more coordinated over time. It also keeps them from getting dangerously dizzy on playground equipment or feeling unsafe when they run, jump, and play.
How Does Balance Develop?
Balance improves as the vestibular system matures. You’ll notice your toddler’s balance becomes much better after their second birthday, but their vestibular system and balance have been hard at work long before.
From the moment you give birth to your little one, their vestibular system is already functioning (in fact, it does so while they’re in the womb!). Any movement that changes their position stimulates and strengthens this system. That means when you’re gently rocking, bouncing, or having a sweet slow dance with your baby, you’re setting them up for healthy vestibular development. At this point, your baby’s body is doing most of the balancing work without them putting any thought into it or using their muscles.
Between age 4-6 months, your infant will gain more head control, allowing them to use their neck and trunk muscles to balance their head. They’ll begin to sit with your support, and by 8-10 months, have enough balance and strength to start crawling. By their first birthday, they may take their first steps!
During this stage, you’ll see your toddler moving in all kinds of ways. As they practice walking more without your help, they become more coordinated and feel more confident in their movements. Balance plays a significant role in this. When your toddler turns in a different direction or bends to grab a toy from the floor, their vestibular system and brain work together to help them achieve those movements. By the end of this stage, they’ll feel sturdy enough to stand on one foot without holding onto you for support.
Throughout age 2, balance will make a significant growth spurt. They should be able to maintain their balance as they walk or run on different surfaces, like carpeting or a sidewalk. Around 32 months, your toddler will be able to turn, duck, and move in various directions without losing balance, making them superstars on the playground. This stage is a perfect time to introduce them to the wonderful world of cycling! Toddlers as young as 30 months can begin to use balance bikes. By 36 months, they can upgrade to tricycles to combine pedaling and steering movements.
Some babies and toddlers with sensory delays have trouble making sense of what their vestibular system tries to tell them, which can impede balance. If you notice that your toddler frequently seems dizzy or uncomfortable with changing movements, falls often, or appears scared to try to crawl or walk, be sure to bring it up with your pediatrician.
Moving is the best way to get your toddler’s balance blooming! The BabySparks development program has many activities and resources to support your baby’s balance and vestibular development. You can also read more about the vestibular system here.