As kids begin to sit up they need to figure out how to maintain their balance. As you can see in the video it doesn’t just happen, there is lots of ‘figuring it out’ involved!
With the invention of the Bumbo seat more and more people (yes I am generalizing) are putting their kids in it to have them sit up sooner. Now don’t get me wrong, it has its uses and is good for short bursts but kids need their whole bodies to develop sitting balance. The Bumbo seat provides them extra stability at their legs and hips which allows them to work on their trunk and how to react to stay upright but it doesn’t give them the opportunity to coordinate all of the components that go into sitting.
To help a kiddo develop sitting balance you want them to have some trunk control first. If they don’t have trunk control then you want to give them extra support at the hips or even at the belly area so they can start to learn how to keep their head and upper trunk upright in a sitting position. If they can hold themselves up then you can start to wean away the support. If you notice in the video I keep my hands close by but I’m not holding on tight. By keeping my hands close by I am provide limits so that the kiddo can maintain success. This way if they start to topple they won’t have to pick themselves back up from the ground, but rather from wherever my hands are. This requires less work against gravity. It also provides a chance for kids to work on figuring out when they have to turn their muscles on and off as their trunk moves around over their base of support.
I’m going to try to outline some of the things that go into developing and maintaining sitting balance:
(it can help to have something that is really engaging in front of them so they are using their visual attention to help with staying upright)
As kiddos start to lose their balance (or move their trunk too far outside their base of support) one of the first things they need to do is recognize that they are no longer balanced or upright.
Once this happens they need to send a message to their muscles to turn on and try to correct things so that they can be upright again and not fall over. Usually when this happens in the beginning the message gets there a little too late and they fall over. This is why if you give limits so they don’t go all the way to the floor they still get to figure out what muscles to turn on. With repeated practice they start to get the message in time and begin to activate their muscles when they notice a change in head and trunk position.
In the beginning their muscles tend to overshoot the target (sometimes they undershoot too). This means that they over compensate and use too much force so they go too far in the opposite direction. When this happens it takes practice for them to quickly get the message and switch the muscles that they are using. Sometimes I feel like kids learning to sit are little weeble wobbles!
If you notice in the video the legs are coming into play a lot. This is how they begin to use their legs for stability. If they can ground their legs and keep a stable base they have more mobility in their trunk and arms and can do more things in sitting. The grounding and stability begins with them activating their legs to try to counter balance the change in their trunk. That’s why you see them lifting their legs into the air as they try to regain a sitting position. If you are holding on too tight or they are spending all their time sitting in stabilizing chair, they miss out on the opportunity to develop this.
With practice kids fine tune their timing and their reactions so that they barely have to do anything to keep themselves up when they are just sitting there. The next step comes when they get bumped or are doing active sitting (such as playing with a toy).
When they are bumped their body has to react to the change in balance so it is a similar process to learning to sit and stay upright. The challenge is usually figuring out how much they need to react and how quickly they need to do it. Its usually easier to start with slow and small ‘bumps’ whereas the faster and harder ones are more challenging.
When they are playing with toys they have to use anticipatory balance reactions. That means they need to recognize that if they move to reach for something, or if they pick up a toy they are going to need to counter balance that move so they don’t fall over. They turn on their muscles in anticipation of the action or activity that they are about to participate in. Just think about if you’ve ever gone to the Cheesecake Factory and you go to pick up their water glass. You expect a heavy glass and so you adjust your force to that, well it turns out its plastic and you end up almost drenching yourself in water! The second time you go to pick it up though your body has adapted and you use just the right amount of force. This is similar to anticipatory balance control.
I know the video was a little longer than normal this week but I thought the dancing was so cute that I just had to share more!