I am NO baby expert, just ask my wife! However, I do know a little regarding the conditioning and functional movement of the human body.
We are all proud of our little ones. I for one, am particularly guilty of getting excited and recording moments of my own sons development however, at times we must be cautious.
- Don’t rush walking.
Walking is commonly portrayed as a race to prove genetic supremacy (especially on social media), the onset of motor capabilities in children including rolling, crawling, walking, running, climbing, etc, can occur over a vast time period in normal development. If your child gets up and walks early, this does not translate into superhero capabilities in the future sorry, but it’s true. I walked relatively early but unfortunately have zero superhero capabilities.
Similarly, if your child never gets up on all fours to crawl, but instead finds another way to move such as scooting around on his/her bum, this does not indicate that your child’s motor development is abnormal.
As long as children are meeting their milestones, there are a wide variety of solutions that their nervous systems can utilise in order to achieve the same goals.
So we as parents should be careful not to try to interfere or force the issue by insisting that our child walks as soon as they are able to stand. This includes the all too common act of holding their hands as they clumsily put one foot in front of the other usually on their tip toes in some sort of fake walking motion in order to impress our friends.
Many musculoskeletal experts agree that there is great importance in the steps taken when progressing from rolling, to crawling, to bipedal/two foot posture. For example, the act of crawling (or other types of ground based locomotion) is thought to help in the development of normal spinal curvatures, the lack of which can arguably lead to bio-mechanical problems later in life. Further, it can be argued that the act of crawling may train/improve the function of the sense receptors in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
Paul Chek (a well known corrective exercise therapist) actually regresses his clients to infant development movement patterns (reptilian, mammalian etc) in order to improve function. As long as milestones are being met, let your child’s nervous system figure it out in their own time.
- No shoes in the house.
Staying on the topic of walking, I believe another common mistake is for parents to put their children in shoes the first chance they can get. The fact is that shoes were not part of the evolutionary process that shaped and honed us Homo sapiens. From an evolutionary time scale, the invention of shoes occurred only a brief second ago. That’s far too recent to expect suitable adaptations in our species to occur. Our footwear is arguably the reason there are so many foot and lower limb conditions that see people limping into GPs and physiotherapists treatment rooms all too frequently.
O’Keefe (2011) tells us “shoes, often the more expensive ones, can partially cast or splint the foot, causing atrophy of musculature (muscle wastage), shortening and stiffening of tendons and ligaments in the feet, ankles, and lower leg and predisposition to common overuse walking and running injuries including plantar fasciitis, ankle sprain, Achilles tendonitis, hamstring tears, and lower back pain.”
I learnt a long time back about the countless numbers of sensory perception organs located in the feet that are constantly relaying information to our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) regarding the position of all of the tiny joints found in the feet.
These signals help to hone nervous system function to be able to adapt to the many variables present during upright gait as we traverse constantly changing surfaces and balance challenges. When unused for prolonged periods, as is the case when we ‘muffle’ their signals with shoes, these receptors will cease to function properly and can negatively alter nervous system development.
In my house, we have a “no shoes, no socks rule” which means as soon as my little boy steps into the house, shoes and socks are removed. Obviously we have to be careful to ensure there are no harmful objects left around.
- Physical Play.
If we observe the activities of infants and children of our common ancestors and come to think of it, most other species during play you will immediately notice the physicality of the activities. Actions are likely going to include running, crawling, jumping, climbing, and play fighting/wrestling. (incidentally all of the activities I advocate for my adult clients)
Contrast this to the activities commonly undertaken by the children in our ‘civilised’ world including video games, TV etc, and it is easy to see why we face a childhood obesity problem.
We need to let them be human and let them play! And this includes wrestling and play fighting (within reason). I love play fighting/wrestling with Beau (my baby boy). I am not encouraging aggression, I’m advocating play. When he’s older I will encourage him to learn a Martial Art. Teaching children Martial Arts (including Jiu Jitsu and wrestling etc) is so valuable to their development. It teaches them the control/restraint needed to play without hurting each other plus they develop their skill level and discipline.
If you come round to my house you will often see my baby climbing on the furniture “Don’t climb on the furniture” can be easily translated into “don’t do what normal humans are supposed to be doing because I don’t want my possessions to get dirty or broken.” I say let them climb, and take the time to teach them to do it properly and safely!
Many people understand the context of physical play for “exercise.” However, what is frequently ignored or misunderstood is the importance of such play for proper movement pattern development as well as for beneficial anatomical development.
As discussed most children naturally develop the ability to run and walk. However, they require practice and instruction to develop hopping, galloping, sliding, catching, jumping, throwing, kicking, bouncing and striking skills. Children will eventually incorporate these skills into sports, games and dance etc Playgrounds are perfect places for a child to develop mental connections, socialise and develop fine and gross motor skills.
Like I said at the start, I am no baby expert but, my little boy is a very healthy and happy little guy and I believe a large part of this is due to the amount of activity/play that provides him the opportunity to develop his skill level and release his energy.
I have so much fun with him!