15 February 2022
For children who are living with mobility issues and challenges, and find it difficult to walk without additional support, walking aids can make a huge difference. If your child is finding it difficult to get around, then a walking aid could help to give them a degree of independence back, and maintain their personal mobility.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the children’s walking aids available, to help you make a more informed choice if you’re searching for a product to support your child.
There are many reasons why a child might need a walking aid to help with mobility issues. A walking aid like a wheeled walker or rollator can be a great help in supporting children living with disabilities that affect their mobility – such as cerebral palsy – or those who may need temporary support after surgery or an injury.
A walking aid can restore some personal independence, helping to increase mobility while also increasing muscle strength. Importantly, walking aids let children lead a more active life, and take part in activities that might otherwise be out of reach and inaccessible.
Paediatric walking aids – more commonly known as children's walking aids – can take a variety of forms, from conventional crutches to wheeled frames, rollators, and specialist gait trainers.
Whatever type of walking aid you use, the aim is the same – to help support children to move with more independence.
The choice of walking aid will depend to a large extent on the nature of their disability, his or her strength, co-ordination and dexterity, and the intended purpose. Is the walking aid meant for day to day use or to help them with shorter term rehabilitation and exercise?
When all of those areas have been taken into consideration, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the most suitable walking aid for your child. Crutches for children are reasonably self-explanatory in terms of how they work – those with adjustable height settings and ergonomic handles provide room for future growth – but it’s important to understand the difference between a walking frame, rollator, and gait trainer for children.
Walking frames for children normally surround the child, giving them a frame of support at all times. Models and styles vary, though there are generally two main types of walking frame for children – as well as adults.
All children’s walking frames have four legs to provide enhanced support and stability, but while some designs have ferrules – the rubber ‘feet’ that meet the ground when in use – on all legs, others have ferrules on two, and castor wheels on two. Wheeled walking frames allow for smoother movement, while non-wheeled walking frames might require good upper body strength to lift and move as the child walks; the choice is very much to what suits them best.
Many walking frames for children will feature height-adjustable supports, either for the forearms or for the whole trunk of the body. The choice will obviously depend on their ability to stand independently. The frame takes some of their weight but encourages them to stand on both feet and to move around without help from someone else.
Look for a product that is easily manoeuvrable and can be adjusted, both to suit the size of the child and to accommodate future growth. Be aware, too, of whether it is limited to indoor or outdoor use; give some thought as to where the walking aid will be used. If your child is likely to use it when out and about, make sure it’s designed for outdoor use - is it corrosion resistant in case the walker is exposed to rain?
You should also check the maximum weight limit of the walking aid is right for your child - if they’re at the upper end of the limit, consider the next size up to help it last a little longer as they grow.
You may also like to look for models with optional safety features such as extra padding, brakes, pelvic support, seat and harness. Other useful safety measures include anti-tipping and anti-roll-back devices.
Rollators and walkers are sometimes easily confused, especially when we also talk about wheeled walkers. What’s the difference? Well, while walkers – even wheeled models – have legs with fitted ferrules on, and need lifting and moving, to some extent, rollators just have wheels. The movement is different – a rollator can be pushed, and glides along on wheels, which might be an easier option for your child to manage.
Children's rollators are typically simple, lightweight walking aids that are easy to pack away and transport. They’re ideal for children who require some extra support when walking but who still retain good balance and can stand independently.
Paediatric rollators are normally equipped with cable brakes and may come with useful extras such as detachable storage bags, bottle holders, and kerb-lifters that help them to negotiate small steps and similar obstacles.
Important considerations include weight, ease of folding, the presence of sturdy, height adjustable handles with comfortable grips, and whether the product can be used both indoors and out.
Looking for more information on rollators? Read our Family Guide to Rollators here and our full rollators buying guide here.
Gait trainers are another type of walking aid for children, and are particularly useful after surgery or during a period of rehabilitation. They are designed to help children develop their walking action and balance.
Where children’s gait trainers differ in comparison to walking frames and rollators is that they support the majority of the child’s weight through the process of walking. While a walking frame assists the action of walking, and supports the leg when taking steps, it doesn’t support the torso and upper body at all. A gait trainer does that, often equipped with functions such as hip positioners, trunk supports, and guides for the thighs and ankles.
This makes it easier for children with limited mobility to stand, in an upright position, when they would otherwise be unable to without support. Children’s gait trainers can also help to improve posture.
You can see our full range of children’s walking aids here.
Please note that every child's needs are different. You should base your purchasing decisions on your child’s particular needs and preferences and, where appropriate, upon advice from a health care professional. You can also use our expert advice service here. This puts you in touch with our team of Occupational Therapists, who can assist on whether a certain product is right for your child.