So, it's been a week since my (almost 15 month old) daughter embraced walking and in that time, she's taught herself how to walk down stairs. She also figured out how to stand up independently from a fall, but the stairs took precedence. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this. It's just the standard sidestep down while holding onto the bannister posts, but she looks ridiculously little to be doing it. On the other hand, it's a great reassurance that she is defaulting to a safe approach.
We have a lot of stairs in our house, so safe stair-management is important to us. We also only have one baby gate, because my son was astonishingly good about stairs. He figured out how to slither down feet-first on his tummy at ten months old and did that until he was eighteen months. We never needed to worry about him and stairs at all.
Owing to the cost of baby gates, and the numbers of stairs we have, I didn't want to fit every staircase with a baby gate in the new house (we've moved since my son's babyhood). So once my daughter was crawling, we spent a lot of time on the stairs, just practising. I taught my daughter the same technique for slithering down them, but she never liked it very much, probably because she couldn't see where she was going. She understood about edges, but I was always worried that once she learned to walk, she'd just step off them and hope for the best.
Fortunately, she addressed the issue so promptly that I didn't have time to worry about how I was going to block off all the stairs. As it is, she's unlikely to go up or down a set of stairs without me accompanying her anyway, and now that she's mastered the independent skill, she prefers to hold my hand or be carried than do it by herself.
It makes me wonder about baby gates though... I only have one set of stairs blocked, and those are the ones leading down from the living area, mostly because I envision wildly playing children forgetting where they are and sailing off the edge on a wheely bug. While I've been conscientious about getting the children familiar with the stairs, I'm sure this lack of precaution would be considered insanely reckless by some.
Yet are we being oversold on the baby gate issue? It might be that my children happen to be unusually good at handling stairs, but while we've had a few tumbles, we've never had any injuries. My parenting style tends towards letting my children be at risk of injury, (e.g. they can climb trees) because I agree that they should be able to test their physical limits and learn that an injury is something they can handle (not that we've had anything worse than scraped knees). It seems natural for me to extend this philosophy to stairs.
I can't say I have any regrets, but every now and then, when we're out, my daughter might be playing close to some sort of edge and I'll just sit back and watch her--until I get a sudden jolt of paranoia that all the other parents are thinking I'm a cruel, neglectful mother. Or, on even rarer occasion, somebody else will swoop in and save her from her peril--I usually say: "Oh, it's OK, she's good about edges," and they probably think I'm insane.
Regardless, I'm very impressed with my daughter's determination and she's even more impressed with herself. The overall novelty of walking has worn off a little for her, and today she wanted to be carried most of the time. But I do like carrying her on my hip... that's something I'm going to miss when it's over.