Ajda talked to Janja from Pedosana - centre for the motor development of babies and children - about early motor development in babies and ways parents can encourage their children in the right direction through play. They also named some of the most common mistakes that parents unknowingly make that can be detrimental to their child's development.
Baby's motor development happens on its own if given enough opportunities
Right from the start, Janja emphasised that a baby's motor development happens on its own, given enough opportunities. Today's problem, which is increasingly observed in their centre, is that babies are too little on the floor and too much in the lap, pram or resting position. This means that they have too little opportunity to move around, to get to know their bodies, to gradually learn hand-foot coordination. This can lead to developmental deviations soon after birth.
Pedosana teaches parents how to get their baby on the right track in terms of movement development in a friendly and relaxed way. They follow the baby's natural development and gently guide them to help them learn a particular position more easily and correctly. On average, a baby needs up to 4,000 repetitions to master a movement or position. If you show them, it's easier and faster for them to get there.
The Pedosana programme is not exercises, but a kind of game for the child
Pedosana wants to teach parents that they can guide their babies' development through play, not through training and exercises. They can also sing to them. It is important that parents are not stressed and scared, but that they encourage development casually - during changing, dressing, feeding... And that they understand why something is good, not by rote memorisation. But the fact is that if they were just left on the floor, development would happen on its own time. "You know, every child eventually falls, but it's very important what kind of foundation we lay for the child to do that", said Janja.
The most common problem in the very early period is an extensive pattern
Janja explained that lately, they have been noticing an extensor pattern and as a consequence a weak muscle tone on the abdominal side in very young babies. This means that the baby has a more stimulated back side (muscles in the neck and shoulder area) and the result is a tightening of the head and arms backwards. This makes it harder and worse for the muscles on the abdominal side to develop, which can have a worse effect on sitting, posture and walking in the long term. If this is not corrected early enough, the consequences can be visible later on. This is why correct handling right from the start is of great importance, and can be taught to every parent with a little practice.
Why don't babies like tummy time at first?
For the first three months, babies are learning to control their head in space, and only then do they start to learn to use their hands to help themselves. This is why tummy time only comes on its own after 3 months, before that it is a new and tiring position for babies who have not yet mastered it. Nevertheless, it is important that parents also put them on their tummies in the first trimester, even if only for a few minutes a few times a day. Gradually, this time will increase as the baby becomes more and more used to the position.
If the baby does not want to be on their tummy, there are three ways parents can help:
- by laying the baby on his tummy over his thighs,
- by placing the baby on their chest,
- tuck a roll of tetra nappies under the chest so that both arms are over the top.
Good tummy time means that the child pushes with their hands off the ground.
To what extent do children differ in their motor development, and what does this depend on?
First of all, a child's development depends on their genetic make-up, then on the environment in which the child lives. A child who spends a lot of time in a pram does not have as much opportunity to move as a child who can move freely on the floor.
Why is it good for babies to be on the floor as much as possible?
Most parents feel bad about the advice to put their baby on the floor as soon as possible. But this is completely unnecessary, because it is on the floor that motor development happens earlier and more properly. A bed is much less suitable as a learning surface because it is harder for a child to push off and, on the other hand, even when trying to control their head for the first time, they do not learn that it hurts when they fall. On the floor, it quickly becomes clear to the child that the head has to be lowered gently, otherwise there will be a "boom".
Is it easier for children with an older sibling to progress?
It is easier for them to progress, mainly because mum and dad are second-time parents. Because they give them much more opportunities to move around, they are not so scared, they have more experience and they complicate less. For these reasons, second-born children often develop even better than first-born children.
When to put my child in a seat?
Another interesting question many young parents ask is when they can put their child in a seat. It is very ungrateful to define this milestone in terms of age or number of months. It is important to observe the child and see when it is the right time to make new movements. The most ideal time for a highchair is when the child first sits up (on the floor) on their own. But this can also be as early as the 9th month. So the problem starts around 6 months when we start introducing dense foods and would like to put him in the seat. Parents should take their time here, as the baby can eat on their lap at the beginning.
We should wait before we put a baby in the seat at least until they:
- are able to push themselves up off the floor on their tummy with their arms outstretched and palms open,
- rotate 360 degrees on their tummy (pivots),
- are already able to pull their knees under themselves and stand on all fours.
When does a baby start walking and how can we help?
Your baby will be able to walk when they are able to do so. Parents will help the baby most by not overtaking them, leading them by the hand or putting them on their feet. They will walk when they have developed good enough stabilisation, spatial coordination, balance and steadiness (being able to catch themselves when they fall). Leading them by the hands only prolongs the time it takes them to get there, or deprives them of the important experience they need to be able to walk with confidence.
When is it appropriate to put your baby on a pushchair?
Even with balance bikes, it is important not to overtake your baby's development and to wait for them to be able to walk on their own. Tricycles are, of course, more stable and do not require any special skills. The first condition is that the child's whole foot must reach the ground - when sitting, the heels must also be on the ground.
The second condition is that the child understands the word STOP. A pushchair is, after all, a means of transport and therefore safety must be a primary consideration. And this - a helmet must come with the pushchair, and the child must be used to it from the start.
The most common mistakes parents make that can harm a child's development
Some of the most common mistakes that parents make in good faith, but which can actually harm a child's development include:
- Using a walker because the child does not develop stabilisation and coordination in the walker, but simply pushes off the ground with their toes,
- excessive use of a playpen or other devices that restrict movement (e.g. a resting position),
- anticipating the baby's development by placing them in a position that they cannot reach on their own,
- premature sitting - putting the baby in a sitting position and keeping them in that position for a long time,
- hand-holding and learning to walk.
Any over-use of accessories can be detrimental.
For the most optimal development, the recipe is really quite simple: use common sense and lots of movement on the floor. Parents and babies, slow but steady!