The Journey Towards Postural Control

In this post, we’re talking all about postural control. Quite simply because I can’t bite my tongue any longer.

Mums and Dads, listen up. Grandparents, listen up. Child Care Professionals, listen up. Everyone with a baby within arms distance, listen up.

Many children today don’t have what it takes to keep their body upright. They may appear floppy, find it challenging to sit still, tire easily, be seen propping up their body against the wall, or supporting their head in their hands when seated at a desk.

This may be common but it is not normal.

For a child without adequate postural control, a large portion of their brain capacity is spent doing a dance with gravity, in the quest to remain upright.

Less resources are then on hand to focus, to concentrate, to interact, to learn.

It is in the first year of life that we human beings achieve postural mastery. That is, we go from being a flat pancake on the ground to one who can sit, crawl, stand and walk. In these various positions, we are called to support our body weight in times of stillness and of movement.

We develop this harmonious relationship with gravity bit by bit and it is a process that cannot be rushed. Did you hear that? Childhood cannot be rushed!

If a child is not sitting themselves, they don’t yet need to sit. If a child is not raising themselves into a standing position, they don’t yet need to stand. If a child is not moving upright, they aren’t yet ready to do so.

Physical milestones are important, I know that you know that. But the bits in the middle are the foundations, the glue, that hold them together.

If we force babies into positions that they are not yet ready for, that they do not yet have the postural mastery for, they may reach a milestone earlier. But being upright will continue to be a conscious battle thereafter.

Is it really worth it? Exchanging your child’s centre of gravity and safety for being the first walker within your circle of friends? Is it really worth that much to you? If not, check out my suggestions for supporting the development of postural control. It’s simple stuff and all about getting back to basics.

But before we get to the tips, one more thing. Size here is irrelevant. Being a big baby or having a head that’s high on the growth percentile charts does not mean that you don’t need to develop postural control! It is a level of mastery that every human being needs for a life of comfort and ease, in order to feel comfortable in our own skin and to focus solely on the task at hand, whatever that may be.

How can I support the development of postural control?

  • Tummy time, tummy time, tummy time! Check out my book, Tummy Time Tactics. 
  • Favour floor time in place of baby equipment (bouncers, bumbo chairs, walkers etc)
  • Allow a baby to sit themselves when they are ready. This usually happens at the same time as they begin to crawl.
  • Allow a child to pull to stand when ready. Crawling doesn’t need to be rushed. For more on this topic read 6 Reasons to embrace crawling.
  • First steps can be taken independently. Despite the best of intentions, holding your baby’s hands and taking them for a walk is robbing them of the opportunity to develop their own balance and coordination.
  • For milestones, a child’s age is less important than the process itself. Remind yourself of this often (especially when there is external pressure to perform from loved ones).
  • During balancing activities with older children, support at the hips instead of the hands. It will be harder at first as it requires the child to use their own balance instead of yours!
  • If coordination, focus, posture, muscle tone, and lethargy are challenges experienced later in childhood, use your second chance card! Get back to the floor to develop that postural control using a program such asRhythmic Movement Training or Move to Learn .

Comments 2

  1. Hi Clare,
    I’m loving your podcast!
    What I’d love to hear you go into a bit more (sorry if I’ve missed a whole chunk on this, I’m still getting through them all!), is how your approach to natural motor development varies from other theories? I generally follow the RIE approach to this which advocates (very strongly!) No tummy time. We did use a carrier with my daughter, but aside from that, she didn’t have tummy time until she could roll to her tummy herself (around 5 months). She had lots of floor time on her back and is now a very physically confident 18 month old. I’d love to hear more in depth as to why you don’t feel babies can work through all the physical stuff on their backs until they roll to their tummies themselves as you support not getting children you sit or walk until ready? I totally agree they need to be out of contraptions though!
    Look forward to hearing your thoughts on this one!
    Thanks so much,

    1. Thanks for your question Jess, this is such a good one and also why so many choose not to do tummy time.

      I resonate strongly with the RIE and Pikler philosopy, with the exception of tummy time. I truly feel that when the whole philosphy is embraced and there’s been no complications during pregnancy or birth, these children, like yours, often thrive. In most cases they’ll have plenty of tummy time (according to their own timeline) because of the value placed on unrestricted movement and floor time.

      However, for the rest of the population the story can be a lot different. A stressful pregnancy or birth, a lack of floor time or free movement, and containers being used regularly could mean many children won’t reach the independent rolling stage until much later than they potentially would have, or even at all.

      Going a little deeper from the reflex development angle, a postural reflex called the amphibian needs to be established to facilitate rolling. If reflex development is already bumpy, and then there’s no time on the belly (which aids early reflex maturity more so than being on the back), the amphibian often doesn’t even develop. So what happens then?

      My main concern is with families just taking on board the ‘no tummy time’ message, which I feel is out of context without embracing the whole philosophy. That’s when I see children later on having big developmental difficulties.

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