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Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

first time mom foundational skills mom life parenting skill development skills
Baby, baby boy, baby crawling

Why your baby often crawls backwards before forwards.

Dirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies of all time. Seriously, I was ten years old when the movie came out, and spent two years begging my parents to let me watch it, primarily because I loved dancing so much. 

And at the ripe old age of 12 years old they finally acquiesced, lodging it firmly in my favorite movies of all time list for so many more reasons than just the dancing. 

But that last scene, right?! The dancing is off the charts, off the stage and paired with Patrick Swayze’s famous line, “Nobody puts baby in a corner”.

My friends and I played, and replayed that final dance number countless times to memorize it for no other reason than to dance around whichever of our bedrooms we were sleeping over at that night, on repeat.

If anything could compare to a good dance beat and working it out on the shag rug floor, it was little kids. Come to think of it, 12 was a very good year, for it was also the onset of my serial babysitting career. As an only child and a fierce lover of littles, I happily babysat all day, every day on the weekends. And amazingly parents, sashayed off to here and there, happily leaving me with their tiny offspring. Yep, at that ripe old age of 12.

The result? Multi-year connections to a handful of local families as their kids grew up and they welcomed more. And so, over the years I was witness to a lot of kids learning to crawl. They were so funny! I loved that their physical movement often matched their personalities. Slow and steady, impatient and quick, meh-didn’t work today, I’ll try again tomorrow.  

I giggled when they scooched, bear crawled, and looked like a wounded soldier in their determined attempts to get from one place to another. This was long before I began to study early childhood development, and yet - all these nearly mobile babies had one thing in common.

Oddly woven into physical development baby DNA was the decree you will go backwards before you go forwards.  

Excuse me while I wax poetic on this for a moment.

Thirty-three years later, I’m a mom with grown up children, a parent educator/coach and still an avid lover of littles who call me Nanny Cara and Momma C. Armed with my degrees, including a Masters in Education, I tell parents,


"Sometimes in life, we have to go back to go forward". 


Of course, I'm talking about a developmental leap and the corresponding ‘wobble’ of a previously mastered skill. But there is no example as crystal clear as the physical development of a baby, learning to crawl.

Parents come to me and say, “My child mastered potty training, but all of a sudden they’re having accidents again. What’s going on?”. I ask, “What else are you noticing is happening with them right now?”. “Well,” they’ll say,  “all of a sudden their speech is really popping!”


When kids focus all their energy into mastering a new developmental skill, something that has been achieved often wobbles, and then returns at a later date. They put that skill on autopilot, so that they can focus on this other thing. The other thing comes together. And then, they can control ALL the things - at the same time!

Think about it. 

You clean out a closet. The result is organized visual bliss. The process is messy and finds you revisiting the decision to keep or toss an outfit - too many times. 

Back to go forward.

You’re killing your new diet until the week long family vacation where you throw caution to the calorie counting wind until returning back home. 

Back to go forward.

Perspective is key when we (oh, I mean they) are in such a phase. Luckily, with the process of learning to crawl, we can see it, observe it and giggle along as they look forward and move backward!

This is their first attempt at independent movement. Put another way, it’s a BIG deal and also a lot of work. Let’s break down what it takes to successfully crawl the length of a room. 

  1. Get on all 4’s. Coordinate the shape of your body such that your mass is spread equivalently.

  2. Once there, find your balance on your two arms and two knees.

Wow! This already sounds like a ton of work and we haven’t even got to the moving part. 

Next up- the order of operations for movement: left arm/right leg forward, right arm/left leg forward, hut-to, three, four. This order of operations is to be repeated until you reach your destination. 

Wow. Sounds like an overwhelming amount of work happening simultaneously inside your baby's brain and body, doesn't it? That's because it is!

And, since it’s likely your baby has been a tummy time master, they have strong arms. Mini-muscles just waiting to be used. You'll notice they master step one, the ability to be on all fours, first and just hang there. They wobble a bit, and then drop, then come back to all fours (and- repeat). 

This must be mastered before the next part of the crawling process can happen.

A very sturdy baby on all fours. Who shifts their attention to the next part of the protocol will steady those arms like a champ, lock their eyes on the finish line and then… go backwards. Why? While they may have mastered the all-4’s balance trick. their legs aren’t nearly as strong as their arms (thanks a bunch tummy-time reps), and your little cherub literally pushes themselves into reverse.

It’s a tricky dance they're doing; aligning their focus, their energy, their physical muscles, their movement, and their motor skills, to reach that toy, that person, or that bag of chips that fell off the coffee table. At the beginning of their developmental journey, across the room is far, far, away! 

And so yes, your baby will go backwards before they go forwards: literally, figuratively, and developmentally. They’ll back themselves into couches, under chairs and corners of play yards or cribs.

They will not always go backwards. They will go forwards, but let them go back first. It's part of their developmental learning process and the process matters. 

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