We look at our friends and our loved ones, young and old, and we see most of them slouched over, walking with feet turned out, walking on their toes, or not walking at all because they are just too tired to walk. Naturally, we think of our children and how we want them to be. We want the best for them. We want our children to be able to move, walk, sit, and stand with comfort, ease, and grace. Here are some tips to help you help them do that, without nagging or becoming irritated.
- Make Good Posture A Game.
Youngsters mimic their mothers and fathers, copy their postural habits and gestures, and imitate the way you walk. If you want your little ones to develop healthy postural habits, you have to show them good habits for sitting and standing. Sit on the floor or a hard surfaced chair. Make a game of finding your sitting bones. Once you and your child find them, see how long can you sit on them without rolling forward. First one to fold loses. There’s got to be an M & M treat there somewhere. Reward your little ones for imitating you.
- Practice Yoga Together.
Another way to make good posture fun is to practice these easy-to-follow yoga poses together… Mountain pose, Tree pose, Cat-Cow, and Down Dog pose. These poses not only build coordination and strength, they also build big-time body awareness. Once your child is aware of his body, alignment and good posture are easier to find and maintain.
- Build Posture From the Ground Up.
Bring awareness to your child’s feet as often as you can. Teach her to stand with all ten toes pointing forward and with her weight equally balanced between the heels and balls of both feet.
Make sure that your child wears sensible footwear when she has to wear shoes but goes barefoot whenever possible! Children don’t need flip-flops. Flip-flops force their toes to curl and heels to drag. Her calf muscles can’t move the ankle in flip-flops, so her stride will be shorter, and her ankles will roll in. Sneakers and real shoes are better.
Most of her balance information comes from her feet. Shoes, no matter how cute, restrict neurological development. Wearing flip-flops, like wearing high heels, is developmentally detrimental to your child’s alignment and postural wellbeing. Children need to be barefoot as often as possible.
- Teach Lightness of Being.
You are how you move. Teach your children grace and lightness when they move. Start with talking about their top and bottom, head and feet. It is essential to spinal alignment and development. Cue your children to be aware of their heads by describing how their heads are ‘floating’ on their spines like balloons. We all take our bodies for granted, but if we are aware of how we move, that lightness will carry over to good alignment, posture, and agility.
- Whole Body Walking.
Your child learns by your example in walking. It is important that you walk with awareness. Practice a graceful and long stride. Learn to walk with your whole body. You are how you move.
Here’s a trick: walk around the living room and see if you notice your butt muscles and your hamstrings (back of legs) working. If you don’t, your stride is too short. Your child’s stride will mimic yours, so lengthen yours! Do the same walk, but now extend your stride by an inch or two. See if you notice the butt muscles and the hamstrings working. If you do, your stride is good, and you are using the muscles you were given.
My father used to play a game of Giant Steps with me. I was tall, gawky, and uncoordinated. A game like Giant Steps helped me to find my balance, find the leg, and butt muscles for walking and running. As adults, we now call it a Lunge.
- Chin Level With The Earth.
This is a daily reminder in yoga. Grandma probably walked with a book balanced on the top of her head. We don’t do that today, but see if you can do it, and then make it a challenge with your kids. Don’t use today’s fashion models as examples, as most of them have horrible, slouchy posture.
If your chin is level with the earth, then your head is up, relaxing the shoulders. It is a way to organize the body for elegance and good posture. Encourage this simple trick in your children and you will create healthy gait and postural patterns. If you look down, you’ll fall down.
- Use Your Whole Foot.
Your foot has four points of contact: heel, mid foot, forefoot, and toes. Again, make it a game but show your child that he can use the entire foot to walk, balance, and push off.Walking is a game of balance. There’s an exercise called Funny Walk that my daughter liked. Walk barefoot on your heels, then toes, then outside of the foot, and then the inside of the foot. It’s fun, awkward initially, but it gets the foot and lower leg working.
Funny Walk will build your child’s arches. Feet need arches to work well, to absorb shock and to provide power in movement. Orthotics should be used as a temporary measure only, and only as part of a leg-building program. If your doctor or podiatrist recommends them as a permanent solution, say “no thanks”. Find a professional who knows how to strengthen leg and foot muscles. It’s not rocket science.
With exercises like this, she can have a healthy foot strike and a long stride. She will develop good balance and that healthy stride will build muscle and neuromuscular coordination.
- Play Every Sport, Any Game.
Put all these steps into action with play. Children learn how to move by being active. Different games, different sports demand different movement patterns…all good. Specializing in one sport develops only one set of patterns…not so good Children should be active in as many ways as possible.
Minimize all sitting. TV, IPads, IPhones, and Internet games should be a reward for being active. Your children will sit hours and hours in school. Don’t contribute to their inactivity. This will be a battle, but it’s one worth fighting.
Get out there and play with them. Throw a baseball, softball, basketball, anything round and catchable, to your kids! Encourage your children to play every safe sport, to dance, to run, to swim, to throw a Frisbee, and to be kids. Playing outdoors is where they will grow strong. Playing is critical to the development of their bodies and their brains!
Who’s writing this? Bill Boland is an exercise physiologist and lifetime runner based in New York, where he directs an alignment and movement practice known as the BodyFix Method™.