More and more people are recognizing the important role that movement and exercise play in brain function. However, precious little attention is paid to how movement develops. Indeed, pediatricians often tell parents that it really doesn’t matter how children move. If they skip certain stages it’s no big deal. Some kids walk without crawling and creeping. Some kids scoot on their bottoms. Some kids roll all over the place.
All of this is true. However, since it is the brain that directs movement and not the reverse, how can we possibly conclude that it makes no difference how a child moves? Three decades of experience tell us that it can make a huge difference. The process of human development is well known, it has been the same process for millennia and it matters!
Provided your child is functioning fine, creating good mobility really requires only two things – an environment that makes movement easy, and ample opportunity to move. It’s that simple!
Here are seven steps you can take to get your child off to a flying (or should we say crawling?) start.
1. Keep in mind that we human beings are designed to start moving on our tummies not on our backs! If your baby is very young, provide plenty of brief moments throughout the day for him to spend time on the tummy. I know, I know, what about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? The pediatrician said your baby should sleep on his back. That’s fine… for sleeping! But babies don’t sleep 24 hours per day. So when your baby is awake make sure you arrange for some tummy time. The first thing you will notice is that almost immediately your baby will resist the force of gravity and try to lift his head. Do this often enough and he will very quickly develop good head control.
2. Once your baby is a bit older, teach him that one of his best friends in the world is the floor. Make sure that the floor is clean, warm and safe. Also, keep in mind that when we crawl our torso is in contact with the floor and we essentially drag ourselves forward using our arms and legs for propulsion. This results in a lot of friction between our body and the surface. For this reason a smooth surface usually works best for little ones who are just learning to move because it has the least friction. But feel free to experiment. The important thing here is to do what works best for your baby.
3. Dress your child in a way that permits complete freedom of movement. For infants, barefoot in a diaper and t-shirt or a bodysuit (onesie) work just fine. This is especially important when children are on a smooth surface because if their limbs and feet are covered they can not grip the surface.
4. Provide as much opportunity as possible for your child to move freely. This is essential. In the beginning space won’t be an issue but as your baby begins to move forward make sure that you provide more space so he can keep going as long he has the energy.
5. Avoid using devices that restrict movement or limit opportunity to crawl such as a playpen, walker, swing, etc. Lots of parents use these devices today. Not a good idea.
6. Whenever possible, join in with your child while he or she is on the floor. Your presence and some colorful toys will provide motivation and encouragement to move.
7. Once your child can crawl, encourage as much crawling as possible. Be a cheerleader and motivator for your child. Have fun and make movement an adventure. Celebrate your child’s successes.
So if you want to ensure that your child’s development gets off to a good start, the answer is very simple – get your child moving! If your child is struggling with development these seven steps are doubly important! Mobility is the KEY to good brain organization. So get your child on the floor and follow these steps. You’ll be amazed at the results.
Stay tuned for the next step in the process in a future post.