Now, more than ever, we understand the profound power of the brain and the opportunities we have to continuously influence the development of our children’s brains.
Brain development begins in utero and is dependent upon movement. Without movement, the brain does not develop.
What kicks off this process of movement and brain development is the primitive reflex system. This system is a series of reflexes that emerge, develop and then integrate or “switch off” sequentially. These reflexes begin emerging in the second month of pregnancy and complete their journey at around 18 months of age with some reflexes remaining active in the body for a bit longer.
These reflexes give an infant its very first experience of movement with each reflex triggering a particular spontaneous reaction. The reflexive movement sequence must play out fully to integrate all the primitive reflexes and create the most stable neurological foundation for all other experiences and learning to build upon.
The best thing you can do for your child is to let their innate and spontaneous movement sequence play out without interruption!
So, how can you give this movement sequence the best chance of playing out fully in order to get the strongest brain development taking place in your child?
I describe 5 things in this post that you can do to keep movement at the centre of your child’s day to support your child’s brain development.
Before you read on, hear me loud and clear that this post is written with no judgement.
Everything I now advise against, I am guilty of to some extent! However, once I knew better, I could do better (most days!). Such is the power of information!
Let’s be realistic, parenting is hard work some days, weeks or years! Sometimes convenience or survival wins, and that’s ok. But where you can, choose to optimise your child’s brain development. It’s the best gift you could give them.
Limit baby equipment
I’m the first to put my hand up and plead guilty to using unnecessary equipment with my first-born.
The entertainment it provided, the few minutes of peace and a happy baby was so tempting. So the first thing to hear before you read on, is don’t beat yourself up about it!
For a typically developing child, baby equipment such as bumbo seats, capsule car seats (when used extensively beyond the car), walkers and jolly jumpers can do more to hinder than help child development.
Think of the curved back of a baby in a bumbo seat or a capsule, the pressure on knees and hips in a jolly jumper. Capsule carseats obviously serve an essential safety purpose for car travel and should be used for that. However, extended period of time in a capsule keep an infant’s spine in a C curve and stop an infant from being able to fully extend and stretch out which hampers their ability to integrate their reflexes and develop good postural control.
Baby equipment either removes movement opportunities and keeps a child in a postural position they are developmentally past being in or puts a child into a position they are not developmentally ready for and forces muscles and spinal alignment into a position the muscles are not yet strong enough to maintain safely.
Infants need time.
And they need to be on their own time schedule. While there are milestones mapped out, give your child the space and time to get there on their own without baby equipment rushing them and causing them to miss precious time moving and developing the physical skills they need.
But my child needs this equipment
Having said all of the above, if your child has developmental challenges or has been born with a disability or other sensory or movement disorder, baby equipment which is generally unnecessary for neuro-typically developing children, may actually serve the greater good when considered for your child.
Often this equipment may assist children who are otherwise unable to engage in independent play to participate and engage in their environments and surroundings. From an early intervention perspective, this equipment may provide vital sensory stimulation or therapeutic uses which will promote and enhance their neurological development.
The first step is always to consider the intention behind using a particular piece of equipment. Always discuss the use of equipment you’re using with your child’s therapists and evaluate the pros and cons of any piece of equipment.
Floor time & Tummy time
The first toy your child needs is the floor and you! I’m sure you’ve heard this before!
Life begins on the floor, progresses to kneeling and an all-fours position before eventually discovering and mastering the standing position.
Babies need time on the floor to organise their movements and to have the freedom to move unhindered so they can experience their full range of movement and to develop good postural control.
Time on their tummy is extremely important for strengthening the extensor muscles of the body, developing head control. Make sure you don’t mistake the grunts of your baby engaging in this serious work for discomfort causing you to ‘rescue’ them too quickly!
All the movement a baby engages in in utero and in the outside world is purposeful and for a reason. The rocking, the bouncing, the rolling is all having a precise affect on their brain and muscle development. Let them go, enjoy their entertainment and marvel as their movement repertoire grows.
Limit screen time
Every time I look at my children on a device I cringe.
Have you ever noticed how still children are in front of a screen? Screens, particularly devices, have the incredible power of removing all movement from a body. Think of the eyes locked down, the head not moving and hanging, one finger swiping back and forth.
Let’s face it, screens are here to stay and do offer some amazing opportunities for our world as well as being helpful therapeutic tool or communication tools when used well. But it is always worth noting their impact on infant development from a movement perspective.
We can’t erase them completely from our child’s life but we do have control, especially while our children are young and in such movement-dependent developmental phases, to limit their screen time and put some boundaries in place.
Connect with your child and spend time playing. Skin to skin contact, holding and rocking are all important activities to build into your infant’s routine. This earliest form of movement helps to integrate the Moro and Babkin reflexes which then influence the integration of subsequent primitive reflexes.
While this holding and rocking often comes naturally and easily, if your infant is in a hospital nursery for an extended period, unwell or born with a disability it can be harder to achieve this. Naturally and rightly, their medical care is the first priority.
While they receive this care, giving your child rhythm by rocking them on you in a chair, gently rolling their isolette back and forth, where this is permitted, using a trampoline in an isolette, where this is permitted, are all ways to build in the smallest amount of movement to your child’s earliest experiences.
Sometimes, even these strategies are not possible. So what can we do then?
The first thing to do is to not despair. From brain science, we now know that the brain is continually developing and there are a myriad of interventions that can attempt to restore the development that was interrupted.
You can begin by knowing that RMT, when your child is ready and able, will help to put the movement back into their body. RMT replicates and simulates these earliest movement patterns of an infant, in effect, working to fill the gaps in the earliest brain development.
Learn about your child’s physiology and harness the power of epigenetics
As your child grows, learn about your child’s physiology. Knowing your child at a biological level can be one of the greatest gifts you give them. It enables you to ensure their “good” genes are turned on simply by providing them with the right environment and lifestyle. This is called epigenetics, essentially, affecting the environment around our genes.
Having the power to know how to surround and support them with an environment which puts their biology at ease and their sub-conscious in a safe place means they can live life with the least amount of stress on their brain and body.
When your child is able to operate with the least amount of stress possible on their system they are in their very best position to be resilient and bounce back mentally, emotionally and physically from life’s challenges.
The Parenting360 Course involves world-first child HealthType assessment and offers an insight into your child’s unique physiology and how you can support them to thrive. Consider registering for this course to understand how to put your child in their best environment.