I have recently been involved in several discussions with regards to the influences that surround the development of movement. These discussions have been with people of different backgrounds and professions, including parents. Basically what became clear is that we had each created a picture of how movement evolves and the factors that influence it, and our pictures were all pretty similar! I’m going to attempt to put it into words so bear with me if I confuse you – hopefully it will all become clear!
Let’s start with the child. Even from birth they are influenced. One of the big influences is their health. If they are born with cerebral palsy or down syndrome, for example, that will affect them differently than a child who has no problems with their neuromuscular system (the communication between the brain and the muscles that causes your body to move in the way you want it to).
Another factor is the child’s motivation or their curiosity about the world around them. Kids are some of the most resourceful beings I have ever met. When they want something they will find a way to get it. Even kids who don’t have the neuromuscular abilities to move easily amaze me with the creative ways they find to get what they want! Sometimes the key is just figuring out what motivates them and saving that for those occasions when they need to be motivated. If it is brought to them all the time, it loses its motivation appeal. For instance if tv is a reward or motivator, it doesn’t hold the same weight anymore if they are suddenly allowed to watch it all the time.
In addition to physical abilities and curiosity/motivation the child’s environment is critical. Its important for the kids to have to work for things/be challenged physically because that’s how they learn and develop. If they are only able to sit and you want them to learn to crawl, you can’t put everything right within their reach. They need to have some toys kept just out of reach so that they will have to move for it.
For kids that are older, sometimes developing new skills means taking risks. This can seem unsafe for those parents that don’t want their kids to ever get hurt. I agree, I don’t want kids to get hurt either but in order to get new skills they need to push the limits. The key is to make it a safe experience for them but don’t limit them from trying new things.
Ok, let me try to pull it all together (I did warn you that it could be confusing). Your child is the first factor. They have their physical abilities and they have their motivation/curiosity. Next up is their environment. Do they have opportunities to challenge themselves physically? Are all their toys on the floor or they up on the couch so they have to work on pulling to stand? Do they get a chance to go to the park and play on the play structures and try to do what the other kids are doing?
The more enriched the environment you provide for your child in terms of stimulation and challenges (both physically and mentally) as well as provide them with enough support to make them successful but not too much where they rely on your support, the more your child will progress both physically and cognitively. That topic is best saved for another blog altogether though!
I hope this made sense and that you will look at ways to enrich and challenge your child’s environment to allow them exploration and risk!