Just don’t neglect anything – that’s the motto of many parents of small children. There are several ways to develop your child’s skills and one of them is physical activity. But not everything truly benefits the child.
More and more mothers today are searching for anything they could do to help their child develop as best as possible. Hand in hand with that, there are more possibilities today – swimming, massages and different kinds of exercises. Also, the number of different clubs and Maternity Centers is growing. Enthusiastic mothers that often lack sufficient knowledge and skills usually organize such activities. So what should we look out for?
Is exercising necessary?
At first this sounds humorous. Is it really important to exercise with a baby or a child under 3 years of age? The process of physical development (in terms of turning over, sitting, standing…) happens on its own; on the basis of a loving relationship between parents and their child. A child loves his parents and imitates them, because he wants to be like them. That’s how he learns. He doesn’t learn to turn over because we turn him over or sit because we sit him up. On the contrary, if we do any movement for him, we can slow down his development. When a baby starts sitting up, he learns to work with his center of gravity; he seeks balance and receives feedback about him through – for example – his falls.
Our job is to create proper conditions for this development. If we try to intervene and try to speed up our child’s development, he may lose his motivation to discover his body and develop his skills. We could decrease his self-awareness and teach him to depend on people around him. For the rest of his life, even as an adult, he will be constantly looking for support in others rather than in himself. Therefore it’s good to do any movements with the child after we’re sure that he can do them himself. If he can’t turn around on his own yet, we should lay him on his tummy only if needed. Until a child can get up into a sitting position on his own, we shouldn’t sit him up. We also shouldn’t hold his hand while walking, until he can walk on his own without support.
Don’t try to speed up your child
If you lay a child on his tummy too early, he often tries to lift his head unnaturally using his back muscles. There is also more tension in the arms and legs of a child sleeping on his tummy rather then on his back. They often fix their position by putting their arms to the sides instead of having them in front of their eyes (which is important). It’s not true that babies need to exercise by lying on their tummy. Healthy babies that are left alone can turn on their tummy naturally and spontaneously at the same time as any other baby. Additionally, their laying position is clearly more confident. It’s also not true that we can support the proper development of the hips by laying a baby on his tummy. Yes, hips need to be at the right angle, but unless the legs aren’t wrongly fixed then the hips will assume this angle on their own. Furthermore, for the development of femur necks a baby needs movement, which creates friction and that stimulates ossification – that doesn’t happen while lying on the tummy.
When a child lies on his back, he learns to support himself with his scapula and his pelvic bones and gradually learns to control his body. He can watch his surroundings (and especially his mom) better this way; he can turn his head both ways and exercise his neck, head and back muscles. His limbs can freely move around and the baby gradually increases his range of motion in his joints. He is like a seed that is poking out his first sprout and growing his first leaves. After he waves his hands in front of his face, he realizes for the first time that those are his hands that he can control. Once he realizes that, he will start reaching for the world. This will the start up the important impulse to turn over on the tummy.
Let your child play
The second most important method of learning is play. A joyful game that a child initiated himself is the most harmonic way of developing motor skills in a child. Even work at home or in the garden can be considered a game or play. He develops his versatile motor skills much faster this way then through targeted exercise. A study, which measured the performances of 4-year olds in basic skills like running, throwing, jumping, etc. showed that children who were allowed to play outside everyday without supervision scored the best. It’s important to provide our children space in which they can explore and develop their own skills (like the possibility of climbing over, down, through, etc.)
We should be careful with targeting strengthening. Certain muscle groups could get out of balance, which could interfere with the development of the whole body.
Give your child space
The wishes and expectations of parents shouldn’t overwhelm the child. Some pre-school children don’t even have time to play because they have so many activities and responsibilities.
If we try to intervene and try to speed up our child’s development, he may lose his motivation to discover his body and develop his skills. We could decrease his self-awareness and teach him to depend on people around them. During free play, a child develops his imagination and creativity much more, as well as his appetite to explore and learn, the appetite to do and to change his surroundings.
This trend is affecting younger and younger children. Parents take their children swimming, exercising, singing and to many other places. We should choose a tolerable amount of activates for our child. During free play, a child develops his imagination and creativity much more, as well as his appetite to explore and learn, the appetite to do and to change his surroundings. During play with other children a child develops his communication skills, assertiveness and also the ability to help others and share. However, if the goal is to win, if competitiveness is encouraged, then the children are overtaken by aggression and rivalry.
Free movement is also much more important than developing the intellect using various tools, books and computers. Activities that don’t encourage movement can lead to much more than bad posture and movement problems. They also take away the children’s life strength for development and growing. Children that often watch TV (even if they are watching educational programs) and don’t move a lot are often pale and get sick a lot.
That leads us to another principle: don’t ever force a child into an activity. If he doesn’t want to participate in a game, its best if the parent plays alone. A child will probably join him sooner or later. If we force our child or put pressure on him he may start despising the activity all together. Even if it may not seem so, a child that is only watching others or is playing alone is still perceiving his surroundings and learning. Some children refuse to do anything, but then at home they repeat everything they heard or saw.
A child needs to experience rhythm. It gives him a sense of safety, peace, security, life strength and much more. Rhythm can be regularity or repetition of something familiar. For example, it could be beneficial to participate in an activity every Thursday. Rhythm is also inhaling and exhaling.
After an activity, a child should have time to take it in – a time for himself – during the day or in the middle of an exercise. A child that has an afterschool activity everyday can be very stressed. Similarly, if we change games and poems too much without giving our child time to exhale, it can lead to tension and overload. The lecture should flow as inhaling and exhaling, it should always have a similar structure and a ritual that signifies the beginning and end; the poems and games can be repeated…
A small child basically learns nothing of what we tell him. As we said before, he imitates us. He does so with other people he loves as well. That’s why the personality of the teacher is so important. Choose an activity for your child with your heart. The joy and laughter are just as important as the teacher’s expertise.
Parents often think that going to afterschool activities is also important because a child can hang around his peers. But that’s not the truth. A child under the age of three doesn’t really need to be in contact with other children. What is important is the contact between mothers (or fathers). Sharing of similar worries, exchanging information and inspiration, mutual support and understanding makes parents more confident and calm. The children can sense this calmness and then the „exercising“ becomes beneficial for them. The space for sharing, whether it is during a lecture or after it, should not be left out. The joy from the game, the meeting and life itself are also important.