Let’s not kid ourselves

For children of all ages teaching “good posture” is not the answer to “bad posture”. We are kidding ourselves if we think that commands like ‘sit up straight,’ ‘stop slumping’ or ‘walk properly’ will be effective. They are crude in comparison with the complexity of natural movement that was once dominant.
Instead of triggering the natural reflexes such commands appear to interfere with them. The result can be overcontrol of muscles and a tenseness that persists throughout their lives. We are simply adding one more habit on top of those that are masking the reflexes.

So, whether you want to preserve good body use in a youngster, or regain it in an older child, the theme is the same: make it easier for reflex muscle control to dominate. Good posture isn’t something that children have to learn, they already have something much better to rely on.

Here are some postural routines and best practices we follow:

1. Give young babies a chance to develop neck control and lower back strength by a steady progression, at their own speed, through lifting their head; rolling over; sitting; being on all fours; crawling to walking. Each stage prepares the muscle co-ordination for the next. If you rush them past a stage, some muscle groups will not be ready. For example, make sure they spend time on their back and tummy. The latter should be supervised but works well with you lying on your tummy. Lifting their head is a natural response to curiosity. If you always prop them semi-upright their curiosity is satisfied. Great for the mind, but at the expense of the body.

2. Delay using baby bouncers and walkers especially those which force apart a child’s thighs. The hip joint isn’t properly formed for some time. In fact it is the movement of the thigh which literally makes a hole in the pelvis to become a ball and socket joint.

3. For the same reason, use baby slings which support both the baby’s buttocks and thighs.

4. Try to use chairs (high chairs, carriers, car seats) which have a distinct angle between the base of the spine and the thighs. These make it easier to change position when compared to rounded or gently curved designs. The latter tend to trap the spine in one position, an undesirable position at that. You may think this excludes slings and hammocks, and I’d agree if used for more than a few minutes.

5. Don’t let children ‘grow into chairs’. Using a chair that is too big can be worse than one that is too small. Make sure the thigh length of the seat is less than theirs. If the seat is too long their calves will press against the seat front. This restricts circulation and levers the small of the back away from the back of the chair. It also prevents them from moving their legs. Eating and concentrating will deteriorate rapidly due to this type of discomfort.

6. Whenever possible make sure that they have a good footrest while sitting down. The erecting muscles of the spine are reflex triggered by sensors in the feet. Without foot contact the spine has to rely more on conscious control and what child can be bothered to think about sitting properly?

7. From a high chair onwards, make sure that the chair positions them correctly to their work surface. This means that the height of their elbow, when sat upright with arms relaxed, should be at table height. A table positioned at shoulder height makes learning to eat or draw very difficult, not to mention hard work… just try it for yourself.

8. Ensure they eat at balanced diet. You cannot go back and ensure the bones grow properly later in life. No amount of exercise can overcome a deficient diet.

9. Once your child is at school age then badger your school to allocate the right-sized furniture. Preferably with sloping desks and No Bucket Chairs.

10. Don’t let them carry a heavy weight on one side. A rucksack is better than a bag, especially for lengthy journeys. For older children, who may do paper rounds, check their bag weight. (The National Back Pain Association are planning guidelines.)

11. Try to make active pastimes more enjoyable than sedentary ones (yes, I know how seductive computers and TV are). If they just spend hours in front of a computer then a chair which rocks can at least keep their muscles active.

12. Make sure the chair they use is well-designed and fits them. They should be able to change posture whenever they feel discomfort, not be forced to wait until it’s a pain.

13. If you are dismayed to see your child sitting like a sack of potatoes don’t despair. But do take it seriously. Chances are it will need someone skilled to help them to want to change.