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Column originally published Sep 16, 2003
Column last revised/updated on Sep 9, 2018

Hyperactive Children May Skip Crawling And Start To Run Early

Question: One of my friend's daughter has a strange problem. She is 7 years old; she basically skipped the crawling stage and started walking very early. She is very intelligent, however, she does not like to sit still for any length of time. In order to keep her attention in studying, the private tutor has to build in some activities (such as asking her to get up and walk across the room to check the answer) in order to keep her attention span. My friend read somewhere that the lack of crawling can affect sitting or willingness to sit for extended period of time. Is this true? Do you have any suggestion why she is like this, and what can be done to help her?


Your friend’s daughter does not have a strange problem. Skipping the crawling stage does not cause her attention problem or willingness to sit still. However, all the observations that you described are actually connected. Let me explain to you in greater detail here.

Almost all children go through a set of developmental stages that is well recognized, regardless of ethnic background or where the child is born. Most infants start smiling and laughing around one to two months, and they turn over between 3 to 5 months of age.

Around 6 to 8 months, most babies would be able to sit up. From then on the development is much more variable. Many children begin to crawl at around 8 months, initially with their elbows pulling the rest of the body around. This is called commando crawl. Later on, they learn to tug their knees under the belly and crawl on all fours.

At around the same time, most children will pull themselves up and stand, followed closely by cruising around furniture. Some children may stay at this stage for one or two months, and occasionally even longer. Other children seem to have more confidence on their feet and let go of any support. At the beginning, many are scared once they found out they are standing alone, and would sit down on their buttock. This is an important learning experience: by trial and error.

At some point, all children will learn to let go and take the first step. This is probably the most exciting time for the parents, seeing their children taking their first steps.

Some children learn to walk faster than others. The average age that a normal child would learn to walk independently is around 12 months. However, many completely normal children may not walk independently until 14 to 16 months of age. They may cruise around the furniture at ease, but they are too afraid to let go. Once they develop that skill, there will be no stopping in walking and running.

On the other hand, some children develop the motor skill much faster than average. A very small percentage of children do not go through the crawling stage before standing and walking. Somehow these children find that they can pull themselves to stand after they have learned to sit. Once they start standing, they would rather move around on their feet instead of on their buttocks.

Although crawling is a natural developmental stage in almost all children, it is not exactly necessary before standing and walking. If a child skip the crawling stage, it does not affect their future learning at all.

However, skipping the crawling stage and walking very early can be a symptom of hyperactivity. Once they learn to walk, they will run instead of walking, wherever they go. Many of these children also love to climb, and jump from chairs and tables, and not afraid of height. They are more ‘accident prone.’

Because they are hyperactive, it is also difficult for them to sit still and pay attention. Not infrequently, if they have to sit still, they would become fidgety. Their hands may explore everything within reach, and their feet can be in constant motion. These children have great deal of difficulty sitting still for any period of time.

Short attention span often goes hand-in-hand with hyperactivity. They can be distracted easily when they have to focus. Many also complain being bored, and need others to entertain them constantly. Although they are often very smart, sitting down to do academic work can be extremely challenging. An average seven-year-old girl may be able to sit still to work for ten or fifteen minutes. A hyperactive girl, on the contrary, may not be able to focus for more than two or three minutes.

Because of their intelligence, many children can still function fairly well in the early elementary grades. However, their teachers may have difficulty keeping them in their seat, and have to remind them constantly to focus on their work instead of talking to other children. Some, especially boys, can become disruptive in class, and make it difficult for themselves as well as others to learn.

When they get older, their hyperactivity may decrease, especially when they hit teenage years. However, their attention span is still much shorter than their peers. As a result, their school performance may decline in later elementary or junior high school years. Their self-esteem often plummet, and many believe they are not as smart as their classmates. Some may give up totally on education because they don’t experience success. This is a real tragedy, because most of these children are extremely bright.

What I have described here is a medical condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also called ADHD. Although I cannot make the diagnosis from your description, there is a high probability that the girl you described can have this condition. The best way to find out for sure is to request a thorough assessment. Depending on the school district, this assessment may be performed by the school psychologist. A referral to a paediatrician who is experienced in dealing with children with ADHD can be very helpful. In some places, paediatric psychiatrists are the ones who assess these children.

If she does have ADHD, the strategy that her tutor employed is very effective. Since she has difficulty sitting still, asking her to sit down for half an hour to do her homework can be extremely frustrating. She may sit there for that period of time, but she would not be able to focus for that long and be productive. The longer she is required to sit, the more frustrated she would become. Allowing her to get up and walk around can reduce her frustration and improve her performance.

Other strategies that can be used include breaking up the task into smaller chunks, each lasting no more than a few minutes, and giving her short breaks in between. Rewards can often be helpful. Some children can become overwhelmed if they encounter a whole sheet of work. Giving one or two problems at a time can prevent her from being overwhelmed.

It is very important to reduce distraction in her environment. The television should be turned off, and noise level should be reduced to a minimum. She may not hear what her tutor says, but she can hear everything down the hall. Some children can do their homework right after school, while others require a break from school work for a while. It is something that parents have to explore by trial and error.

Many teachers find that they can maintain these children’s attention by keeping them close to the front of the class and away from windows or doorway.

You can find more strategies from the following books: Answers to Distraction by Drs. Edward Hallowell and John Ratey, and Teaching the Tiger by Marilyn Dornbush and Sheryl Pruitt. The following websites also provide credible information on ADHD: (Canadian Paediatric Society), (American Academy of Pediatrics), (Children and Adults with ADHD), and

I should mention here that many children with ADHD will benefit from medications. Whether a child requires medicine or not can only be determined by the family and their physician. At the present time, the most effective medications available in Canada are the stimulants, including Ritalin and Dexedrine. Both of these medications are very effective, although there can be some side effects. The dose of medication needs to be adjusted carefully, with the assistance of the physician.

Recently, a new formulation of Ritalin, called Concerta, was released in Canada. The short-acting Ritalin is generally effective for 3-4 hours. As a result, many children need to take one dose in the morning, one dose at noon in school, and one dose after school to help with homework. Children usually don’t like to take medicine in school because they can be teased by other students. As a result, the medicine is often conveniently forgotten.

Concerta, on the contrary, can work for as long as ten to twelve hours. One tablet in the morning at breakfast can provide effective medicine throughout the school and into the evening. As a result, these children can focus to learn in school, and do their homework afterwards.

Although medicine may not be necessary for everyone with ADHD, most children will benefit greatly from it. It can improve their attention span, so that they can sit down for longer periods of time to complete their work, instead of just rushing through. Some children have difficulty learning social skills because they cannot pay attention to social cues and body language. Most parents find their ADHD children develop better social skills when they receive medicine daily. Many children also benefit from counselling by experienced psychologist.

I hope this information does clarify your friend’s misunderstanding regarding the crawling skill and its relationship to sitting still and paying attention.

[Note to Readers: There are many other columns that I have written about ADHD. Please look for them on this website.]