When kids first learn to walk, they aren’t steady or confident in their motor skills and balance (not that they know this, but their bodies do) and they need ways to control all the joints. They will often lock out joints to control degrees of freedom so there are less things moving that they have to focus on. They will also recruit lots of extra muscles to help them. This is why a lot of kids will walk with a high guard position when they are learning to walk, and they might look a little stiff legged (potentially even robot like). As they get more confident in their skills, strength, and balance you will see the degrees of freedom slowly begin to unlock and the arms begin to lower down until they are not so high up in the air. We have written a post before about the development of gait (aka walking). We have also talked about ways to progress their walking balance as they get more confident on level ground.
Sometimes, even though they have been walking for a while, you still see a child with a really stiff walking pattern, or their arms still really high up in the air. There could be several reasons for this but one possible one is core strength and stability. As we talk about a little in that post, if kids don’t have the stability in their core, they have a hard time slowing down and standing still to do things. (Yes I am simplifying it). They like to move. They use that movement to stay stable. If you look at the video attached, you can see a little bit about what I am talking about. Yes, the arms come down intermittently, but the belly is sticking out, there is lots of movement, a hard time standing in one place without moving the feet around to keep steady. This is just one potential presentation. I also have other kids whose arms begin to come down more but they are still really stiff all over and aren’t able to release the degrees of freedom. You also always want to keep in mind how long the child has been walking for. If they have just started walking, this is what you would expect, if they have been walking for a few months, you would expect to see the arms down more and ability to stand still more, or if you have a different presentation, more degrees of freedom unlocked.
Really quick, for those not sure what I mean by degrees of freedom unlocked, it is when they move from holding their legs really stiff while they walking and keeping their legs out to the side, to taking steps that move through and in front of the other foot with the knee bending. You will also see some trunk movement beginning to happen. If you think of each joint as a degree of freedom that requires its own controls, you can begin to see how if they lock them out (such as keeping the knees in extension) there are less things they need to control.
So what can you do? More core strength! You can never have (in my mind) too much core strengthening happening. But, you also want to work with them on maintaining static positions easier. Some things I like to do (and I’ll do a post specifically on these ideas) is to use a ball to have them sit on and maintain their body in an upright position. You make it more challenging by your speed, how far you move them, how long you keep them away from midline, etc. You can also work on playing in high kneeling or half kneeling. You may need to get creative because they aren’t just going to do it because you’ve asked nicely! You can also work on playing in standing but without leaning on a support surface.
Those are just a few quick ideas that I will go into more detail on in our next post!
I’d love to hear ideas you have!