When Should My Child Be Able To Go Up and Down Stairs?

The thought of your child going up and down a flight of stairs independently may be quite a very alarming thought, especially for kid on stairs
parents of new walkers; however, learning to negotiate the stairs is an important part in your child’s strength and motor development.

Below is a guideline of ages at which your child should be developing stair skills:

  • 10-15 months-Around the time your child starts to walk, he/she should be able to completely climb up at least 2 stairs on hands and knees.
  • 15-18 months-Shortly after learning to climb up the stairs on hands and knees, your child should be able to go down the stairs in the same manner. At this age, your child should also be able to begin walking up the stairs using a railing or your hand for additional support. He/she will likely be using a step-to pattern in which he/she places both feet on each step.
  • 18-20 months-By the time your child is this age, he/she should be able to walk down the stairs as well, placing both feet on each step and using a railing for support.
  • 2 years-At this age, it is typical for a child to walk up the stairs without any support from the parent or a wall/railing, but still putting both feet on each step before proceeding to the next step.
  • 3 years-When your child is around 3 years of age, he/she should now be able to walk up the stairs using a reciprocal pattern, placing only one foot on each step, without requiring the use of a railing for support.
  • 4 years-Your child should now be able to go both up and down stairs using a reciprocal pattern and no rail.
As with all new and challenging gross motor skills, it is vital to make sure that your child is supervised and safe while completing the task. If you have concerns with your child’s ability to negotiate stairs at home or in the community, be sure to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist at NSPT.
4 replies
  1. Tammy Rodell
    Tammy Rodell says:

    Help! I am having a brain freeze on how to get my PT kids to crawl down the stairs. They are flexing their hips and rotate to sitting on the stair rather than extend their leg to touch the lower stair. One sits in a post pelvic tilt. I believe it is poor strength in the hip and back extensors. Both kids hated prone. How can I break this flexion pattern? What am I missing? Thanks for your suggestions!

    • Colleen Kearns
      Colleen Kearns says:

      I would recommend by starting with teaching your kids on how to crawl down from the couch. They have to stay on their bellies and crawl down just like on the stairs, only the couch is higher so they won’t be tempted to scoot down on their bottoms. On the stairs, you may need to start by bringing their legs down from step to step for them. If you have tried this and they still resist, try making a game out if it. Stagger small stuffed animals or soft toys on the steps that they have to squish with their knees. Since the animals are staggered on each side of the step they will have to crawl down instead of scoot in order to get the animals.
      Thanks, Colleen

  2. katie
    katie says:

    My son is going to be 5 in two weeks and his kindergarten teacher is concerned because he walks up and down the stairs only one foot at a time. Should i be concerned? He doesnt always do that with me. Going downstairs he will do it but going upstairs is pretty normal.

    • LibbyGalin
      LibbyGalin says:

      Hi Katie,

      Here is the response to your question from our blog author, Colleen:

      If your son has walked up and down stairs with a reciprocal pattern (one foot on each step) for you at home, then he may just need more practice to increase his strength and to get in the habit of doing it all the time. Try and make a point of having him go up and down stairs with one foot on each step at home or anywhere else where there are stairs when he is with you. If after practicing this for a few weeks you still notice difficulty completing this task (ex. your son consistently requires hand-held support from a rail or wall to complete stairs in this manner, he turns his body sideways when lower his foot to the next step, his steps are very loud and uncontrolled, or he has difficulty correctly and safely positioning his foot on each step) then it would be a good idea to talk with your pediatrician about a physical therapy consult to evaluate whether there are any underlying strength or balance concerns.


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