Squatting is when a child (or adult) bends their knees to lower themselves closer to the ground. In the case of kids this is usually for a functional purpose such as to pick something up from the floor or to play on the floor. Now, I bet you never realized that there are variations on squatting, well there are! I’m not sure of all the technical names for the squats so I’ll give you the ones we tend to use. There’s the mini squat, the mid squat and the full squat. The mini squat is when a kiddo just bends their knees a little bit and a full squat is when they go all the way down to the floor (and usually play in this position). The mid squat is the hardest for kids who have weakness because it requires the most control. Its when they bend their knees to about mid range (~90 degrees). (Kids who are tight in their ankles will generally avoid playing in a full squat and will go right into kneeling rather than stay on their feet)
When I talk about control I am referring to eccentric muscle control. The opposite is concentric. When you stand up and straighten your knees you are using concentric and your muscles are generating power to help lift you into a standing position. When you are squatting down and bending your knees you are using eccentric and your muscles are slowly lengthening to help you maintain the position you want to be in. They have to grade it just enough to let you lower but not too much so you don’t just collapse to the floor. If they don’t feel like they have enough strength to maintain that control they will avoid the mid position because its the hardest (gravity gets to have the biggest pull on them at this range as well).
Usually the muscle I am referring to is the quadriceps muscle (the thigh muscle), however the calves can play just as big a role. I have found that if kids don’t have control in their calf muscles they don’t like to let their leg move across their foot (because it requires control). In order to go into a mid squat they need to let their leg move forward over their foot. If their calf isn’t comfortable with this is will often go into an overactive ankle reaction. An ankle reaction is one of the balance reactions that helps to keep us upright. When the calf feels the leg start to move over the foot it will get nervous that we are about to fall so it will turn the calves on concentrically to stop that leg from moving forward. Well this makes it awful hard to squat! Ankle reactions are great for balance but we want to make sure they are turning on and off at the right time.
Now that I’ve given you all this information on squatting, what are you supposed to do about it? Well start by paying attention to your kids and see if they use all three positions or if they avoid one or two of them. In terms of ideas for encouraging squatting in all positions? Well that will be a topic for another post this week!