As parents, we all feel anxious about our children meeting the appropriate milestones of rolling over, crawling, walking, etc. Stephanie Johnson, a Developmental Movement Therapist and Educator, shares with us why we shouldn’t be in any hurry to rush through these critical stages of growth and development.
During one of my 1st
mommy and me music classes with my then 9 month old son August, our teacher came out with a basket full of instruments and dropped them out in the middle of the floor for the kids to select what they wanted to use and bring it back to their grown up. August, who was lying on the floor, perked up his head, and with a little gurgle of glee and excitement, began to crawl on his tummy for the instrument he wanted. Being a developmental movement therapist, I watched with great pride as he glided across the floor, performing the most exquisite example of the lizard crawl.
I was beaming!
I noticed a grandmother close by who was watching August too. No doubt she had raised many children and was now helping with her grandchildren. I smiled at her with a mother’s pride expecting to see a look of maternal approval of August’s efforts, but to my surprise I was met with a look of pity. She nodded her head knowingly and with a reassuring smile said,
“Don’t worry, honey. It’s o.k. He’ll be walking soon before you know it.”
I was stunned. Here was my little boy crawling across the floor like a champion lizard just as it was described in all the lectures and illustrated in all the books on early developmental movements that I had studied, but this grandmother saw some sort of unfortunate deficiency or ailment.
The message that I got from her was that we mothers need to get our children on their feet as soon as possible. From my training and work with children, I know that the time between birth and walking is a precious and necessary part of a child’s journey to lifelong learning and not to be rushed.
It is understood by neuroscientists today that the early developmental movements a child makes are instinctual, fundamental, and necessary. These simple baby efforts are the foundation for all subsequent activity, conscious and unconscious, both physical and intellectual. Baby’s body is a “new world” that he or she must explore to find out how it works. “Finding out” means using all of its capacities, incrementally, stage by stage and in the first 18 months, much of this happens on the floor.
So what was going on when August was tummy crawling toward the instrument?
As he alternately moved opposing arms and legs, he was developing sidedness, right and left, a precursor to handedness. He was also watching the movements of his own hands and arms, a process that is called horizontal eye-tracking. These movement patterns become automatic when performed in the horizontal position and are fundamental to learning and skill acquisition in school. They are necessary for writing and reading fluently. By digging his feet into the floor to propel himself through space, August was building core strength and developing leg strength that is connected to his center. This is needed for a firm and grounded lower body as he finds his way to walking and all other future physical pursuits whether it be running, dancing, or shooting hoops. A grounded lower body is also needed for something as simple as sitting still in a chair while the upper body plays with blocks, paints, or writes.
The number of “invisible skills” being attained during the exploration of floor travel as in the lizard crawl are greatly unknown and unappreciated in a world of well-meaning parents, grandparents and toy companies urging early walking.
What are some of the ways that moms and dads can ensure that their babies have adequate opportunities to explore their bodies and the world around them?
- First off, ensure that your baby has lots of unrestricted movement time on the floor. That means that if your baby is not in your arms or a carrier close to your body, then on the floor in a prone position is the best place for optimal development. Your baby will eventually be able to roll to the side and change positions -the tummy is the starting place for this development.
A smooth surface is best when babies begin to explore traveling movement on the floor. Carpeting creates friction when babies try to move through space, and often causes them to skip traveling on the belly and move right to creeping on hands and knees. If your home has mostly carpet, this may mean keeping kitchen and bathroom floors baby ready. I’ve suggested to many parents who have mostly carpet to purchase a linoleum remnant and use it when baby starts to tummy travel.
Dress your baby in clothing that is comfortable and allows for the free movement of your baby’s limbs. Don’t overdress! I know one mom who keeps a room in her house very warm so that her and her baby can have some naked movement time even in the winter!
Bare feet! Avoid socks, shoes, tights and booties. Parents often worry about baby’s feet getting cold. If you would not put mittens on your baby, than they don’t need socks either. Babies need bare feet in order to make traction with the floor. Without traction, babies will be tempted to skip the work of locomoting on the belly. Tumblewalla offers a range of barefoot one-pieces that are perfect for babies exploring their world from the tummy!
Be down on the floor with your baby - this is the number one remedy for babies who seem to dislike being on their tummy. Learn your baby’s cries, some cries are definitely asking to be picked up and others are expressing frustration with a difficult movement stage. When baby is whimpering about trying something new, fight the urge to “rescue them” by interrupting important nervous system development. You may try instead to get on the floor with them and acknowledge their struggle, “I see you are working so hard, this is really tricky work!” Supporting your baby in struggle sends a different message than picking them up every time something gets difficult! Lifting that heavy head is hard and so is rolling over - this is their work and it’s very important for their overall physical and cognitive development that they have ample time with each stage.
- Remember that this all comes naturally to your baby; you don’t have to do anything but provide plenty of unrestricted movement time. Enjoy this time of not doing; there will be plenty to do the rest of your child’s life!
Stephanie Johnson MA, R- DMT, LPC
Stephanie is a mother, licensed teacher, Registered Dance Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor who brings a unique perspective to education and child development. Stephanie offers a deep understanding of how a child’s early physical development influences achievement at school both socially and academically. In addition to her work with school aged children, Ms. Johnson has developed an infant development curriculum and is committed to educating and supporting new parents in regards to optimal development through Bright Baby
classes, workshops and milestone check ups. To learn more go to www.sageeducationcenter.com
and click on the Baby page.