Protective extension is part of a child’s developmental process and is used in order to protect themselves from a loss of balance. As with all milestones, there are ages that these reactions typically emerge. Most of you will recognize protective extension as using your straightened arms to catch yourself when you lose your balance in sitting. Most kids develop this ability in the forward direction first and then side to side. These are essential for a child to sit independently. The last to develop is backwards. When your child has not yet developed a protective extension response, they will not be able to stop themselves from falling over. That is why when kids first start to sit many parents put them in a bumbo chair or propped up with a boppy, or surrounded by pillows.
When they are sitting with pillows or a boppy you will notice them topple over. I would actually encourage you to let them topple, especially in the beginning. By this I mean be sitting with them and make sure they aren’t going to hurt themselves but let them topple onto the pillows or even control their fall to the carpet. This allows your child to begin to process what happens when they lose their balance. This is one of the ways they learn to start putting their hands down. You can even encourage the use of their hands by having them prop forward on their arms while they are sitting or as they start to tilt to the side help them put their arm down.
Another fun way to promote protective extension is to have your child sitting on the ball and slowly move the ball so they are not sitting straight up and down. As you move the ball (and their hips) to the side or the back, they will have to react by using their trunk muscles, or if they can’t hold themselves up that way they will put their hands down to help hold themselves in an upright position. If they can’t even do this then their trunk will fall on the ball! This can be done nice and slow and easy so they have plenty of time to react, or as they get better it can be down quicker. Bouncing is always fun to do in between so it isn’t all work for them!
Have fun watching your child develop their ability to sit and react to changes in their balance, its amazing how quickly they adapt!