Well, this is awkward...No, seriously! How would you like to sit in a chair that bounces your body without your control? Or to walk around with your arms pulled up over your head? Or placed on a high ledge with no way of moving up or down? Awkward is the least of your worries at that point, because you could also be feeling uncomfortable, scared, or frustrated. Think of how many times young humans are placed in positions or places they cannot get to themselves. Even my pediatrician encouraged tummy time and I have heard of many others doing the same. However, I wonder, what message are we sending to young humans when we disregard their abilities, and jump ahead on their gross motor development to place them in a position they are not ready for and cannot move into themselves? But it is considered “so cute” when young humans are forced to “walk” by cranking their arms above their heads and basically dragging their bodies across the floor by their poor shoulders! When are the needs of the young human a priority? Now, as a parent myself, I know we run a fine line of feeling the sleep deprived insanity and “tricks” to ensure you get sleep. Additionally, I know “mom guilt” both external and internal are so real (read: the world is tough on moms, and judgement comes from all sides including yourself) so this post is not meant to judge parents! I would just like to provide an alternative viewpoint that encourages more respectful interactions. Trust me, you will not regret being more intentional about how you support your young human!
So, what can be done?
1. Well, first and foremost, start with an open space free of clutter and furniture or items that can fall onto your young human.
2. Place a firm, yet supportive surface material in the open space. For example, Wonder Mat non-toxic extra thick waterproof exercise gym mats or low-pile clean carpet.
3. Place your young human (birth-12 months) on his back and allow him to choose the position he wants to move into. For example, place a young human on their back as a starting point. Even if they are able to move onto their stomach, place them on their back and allow them to move as their development allows.
4. Observe their gross motor movements and adapt environment as interests and abilities change. For example, a young human who rolls from one end of the room to another needs a larger surface area of the firm, yet supportive material discussed in step 2.
We have heard phrases similar to, “Oh this crunchy mom, that will never work in real life” or “Well, back in my day we did _____ and you turned out fine!” A dad in our program says, "Know better. Do better." We need to change our daily practices with young humans based on current knowledge.
According to Gerber and Johnson (1998), "The consumer baby industry want us to believe that we need all these things to survive. They know parents, especially anxious, new ones, are tempted to do many things to alleviate crying and keep a baby happy" (p.48-49). They discuss that using devices that restrict freedom of movement places your young human in an "altered state of consciousness" (Gerber & Johnson, 1998). So, while the young human may be momentarily distracted, their need for freedom of movement goes unmet. Gerber and Johnson (1998) write:
Baby carriers: Using a baby carrier, like a Snugli or baby sling,
leaves your baby hanging from your body in a passive position,
unable to move. I equate love with empathetic attention rather
than simple physical closeness.
Infant seats and bouncers: These, too, keep a child from
moving in a natural manner on her own.
Swings: These hypnotize children with their back and forth
movement. I like for children to be aware of what they do and
how they feel, even if what they feel is tired, hungry, or
frustrated. Swings encourage passivity. What goal is
accomplished by not letting your child face reality? A swing is
fine for an older child who can get into and out of it and pump it
herself. That's an active activity.
Theodore D. Wachs, in Early Experience and Human
Development (Plenum Press, 1982), supports this idea. He cites
ample evidence that "physical restrictions of the child's attempts
at exploration, defined primarily in terms of lack of floor freedom
and possibly in terms of physical barriers, tends to be related to
lowered cognitive-intellectual development."
Walkers: The term walker is a misnomer. It is a piece of
equipment on wheels in which a dangling baby rolls across a
floor. In order to walk, a baby needs to learn how to support her
weight, and balance on one foot. She does neither of these in a
walker. Studies have also shown that walkers are dangerous.
This means that the latest vibrating, music playing bassinets, or high-tech battery operated exersaucers interrupt the natural motor development. We hope the above information encourages you to reconsider using them. Young children are learning how to learn through freedom of movement. Tardos (2013) writes:
During the period while the child progresses from turning onto
his side to safely walking, the average length of time spent in the
same position during his waking time is not more than 2 to 2.5
minutes. In the 30-minute observation period, an average of 56
changes of position were recorded, amounting to almost two
changes per minute. (p. 170)
This means that when we restrict the movement of young humans we are robbing them of all these learning opportunities to build the neural networks in their brain. Restricting movement may also stifle the intrinsic motivation to rely on one’s own body cues. For example, the infant’s body is his or her first learning environment. In our program you will find infants placed on their backs on padded but firm flooring that enables them to move their bodies freely. Another example would be that we have developmentally appropriate climbing structures that encourage children to climb and crawl which are brain building experiences. Examples of climbing structures include a Pikler triangle with a ramp, climbing arch, platform with ramp, stair climber, boat rocker, and Pikler diaper changing table.
Young humans that are given freedom of movement develop agile bodies and understand what they can and cannot do with their current abilities. It is our responsibility to ensure that young humans are given that freedom, it is their right!
Tardos, A. (2013). Facilitating the play of children at Loczy. In M. Gerber, D. Greenwald & J. Weaver (Eds.), The RIE manual for parents and professionals expanded edition (pp. 170-176). Los Angeles, CA: Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE).
Gerber, M., & Johnson, A. (1998). Your self-confident baby. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.