Encouraging young children to practice proper posture and to engage in core strengthening activity is vital to laying a foundation for not just physical health but also for mental-emotional strength. Spinal health is the basis of balance and stability not just in our bodies, but in our minds and feelings.
Being and feeling strong inside is the fuel kids need to build confidence in exploring the world and overcoming obstacles. How they are able to count on and control their bodies has everything to do with their capacity to manage their focus, feelings, and behavior. When children learn to stand up straight and walk tall, they feel strong and think clearly. Why?
The spine is the central support of the body and nervous system. It connects and organizes all our systems while enabling us to stand upright, perform complex movement, and connect to each other. And though we are all born with perfect posture – just watch a 1 year old walking – there are many factors that inhibit healthy functioning, such as physical accidents, emotional trauma, family habits, nutrition, furniture, sedentary activities, long hours of sitting during growth spurts, etc. Current statistics indicate that poor posture is a serious problem.
80% of back and neck pain is a result of bad posture.
56% of teenage spines are out of alignment or deformed due to chronic slumping.
Children entering preschool are less developed in physical coordination, and, as a result, cognitive coordination
Childhood anxiety has been found to be correlated to inability to balance
Slumping kills off innate vitality and derails the development of confidence and capability. When kids slouch, skeletal alignment is compromised, muscles and ligaments struggle to keep balance, and positive chemical messengers which regulate thoughts and feelings are repressed. This leads to lack of core strength, poor balance, less memory, hindered eyesight, headaches, and an overall sense of weakness. For children, physical weakness translates into vulnerability, anxiety, fear, and frustration. Good posture and physical strength, on the other hand, empower them to be calmer, more relaxed, and more mentally and emotionally stable.
You can help kids build the self-confidence and resilience that comes with good posture and plenty of physical activity, aerobic and slow, intentional, by:
Having them checked out by a pediatric chiropractor or osteopath.
Noticing how they move and relate to the world? Are they open and receptive, competent and curious, or withdrawn and worried, closed and careful? Understand that however they are is a mind-body-emotional state, not just a physical habit. Support them in activities that grow a sense of strength and competence.
Model good posture. Discuss good posture and why it’s important. Notice other people’s posture and invite your kids to mimic them so they can experience how different postures feel and make them feel.
The freeEmbodied Mindfulness Video by Wellness Through Movement is an 8-minute animated story (see below for video), designed to be presented to children in 4 two-minute sections. It shows how two children who get in trouble for not listening come to understand what happened for them and how they can use a centering breath technique called, Home, to develop their ability to be mindful and to better direct their attention so that they can listen.
The program is the culmination of 30 years of work and research with children by co-creator, Catherine Rosasco Mitchell. She sent it to me recently after testing it for thirteen years in elementary schools. I was impressed with the simplicity, clarity, and accessibility of the video and with her accompanying User and Teacher Guides. I enthusiastically recommend the program to anyone working with children. What I love about this resource is that it’s free – thank you Catherine! – and that it directly addresses the fact that children are 90% more in their bodies than in their minds.
Children are full of energy, emotion, and sensation inside so they feel more than they think. To develop self-regulation, parents and teachers need to understand that children have to become aware of and understand what happens inside them when they don’t or can’t, hear, think, or pay attention in order to manage it better. They also need both encouragement to self-reflect and time to practice sensory – somatic tools or techniques to reset. When this process is offered and even modeled by their teachers and parents, kids can learn to work with themselves brilliantly. As Catherine explains eloquently: It is only by using the feelings of the body that you can truly help children access and understand their own perception, character, and relationship to others.
In addition to her scientifically designed sequences of movements and proprioception to increase self- awareness and support the development of both internal and external attention, I also admire Catherine’s advocacy for embodied education. She not only understands the vital role of embodiment in development, she also creates lesson plans that integrate sensory self-awareness and shows educators as well as professionals in the psychology, development, and neuroscience how to teach it. Check out her Teaching Embodiment is Crucial Poster presented at conferences on health and movement including the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and American Association of Health, Physical Education and Dance (AAPERD).
To access and utilize this awesome free resource click here.
The official definition of executive function is: a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Think of executive function as the “conductor” of all cognitive skills, enabling us to manage our lives, responsibilities, and projects. These skills include:
Inhibition – The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time.
Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
Emotional Control – The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings.
Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
Working memory – The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
Planning/Organization – The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands.
Organization of Materials – The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces.
Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.
Looking at this list, it’s obvious that self-regulation is a critical competency of executive function in two major ways: social-emotional (appropriate behavior in a social context) and cognitive (focus, academic learning, problem-solving). When children are self-regulating, they can both stop or start doing something, even if they don’t want to. They can delay gratification; they can think ahead; they can control impulses and consider options. It is crucial that children learn basic self-regulation in early childhood because research indicates that “children who cannot control their emotions at age four are unlikely to be able to follow the teachers’ directions at age six, and will not become reflective learners in middle and high school.” (http://toolsofthemind.org/learn/resources/research-by-tools/)
Breathing Techniques for Executive Function
Breathing techniques offer easy-to-practice activities for building basic self-regulation in the body of youngsters and in your classroom. With something specific to do to support themselves when confronted with transitions, sharing, waiting, and re-directing impulses, children are better able to navigate those challenges. As they experience how specific ways of breathing enable them to tolerate feelings and manage impulses, they start to embody greater control. This process strengthens executive function, which builds self-esteem and self-trust.
Help kids learn how to count on their inner wisdom and intelligence. Make time for self-reflection and self-care throughout the day. Then introduce and practice breathing exercises regularly as a way to de-stress, recharge, and reset to to an optimal mind-body state. Below are 2 options that offer simple, effective tools for healthy self-regulation.
is a fun technique that is sure to make kids laugh and not take things too seriously. Because it requires make a silly blooping sound on the exhale, like a fish, it disperses tension, releases frustration, and busts the stress of over-efforting. Humor and playfulness are keys to accessing executive function and creative thinking. Physiologically, when you inhale deeply, you pull in lots of oxygen needed by our brain and body to stay relaxed and alert. When you exhale completely, you make room for more which helps us release toxins and recharge.
Take a deep breath through your nose,
Fill up your cheeks with that breath and …
Push it all out through your mouth while saying…
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.
And again, deep breath in your nose…
Fill up your cheeks with it and …
Exhale it out your mouth …
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.
activates the midline of the body, connects both hemispheres of the brain, and relieves tension in the eye muscles. As they inhale, direct children to place one hand on their belly button and the other on their sternum, like giving themselves a hug. Then, as they exhale, have them move just their eyes (head remains still) slowly from right to left and back again 2-4 times. This movement facilitates improved eye teaming skills and cross-motor coordination.
Overall, Ocean Breath slows, calms, and centers both mind and body, which will enable children to access executive function. Directions
Place one hand on your belly button,
place the other in the middle of your chest.
Press your thumb and forefinger into the
soft tissue points beneath your collar bones
on either side of your sternum. Inhale fully
through your nose and then, as you exhale
slowly, move just your eyes from right to left.
Building focus requires practice in settling one’s nervous system, in strengthening one’s eye muscles, and in mylenating the neural pathways in one’s brain. To help children build the ability to focus, we must give them opportunities, through playful, meaningful activities, to explore and master the skills needed to do so.
#1 WATER DRAWING BOARD
If sustaining focus is a challenge for your children or students, don’t get frustrated or feel like a failure. The ability to focus is a mind-body integration pattern that must be experienced, named, and reinforced for kids to actually understand what you want from them and how to do it. Don’t assume they know how. Instead, help them learn through the following steps and then practice, just like you would any other muscle:
Identify what they need to do in their mind-body to focus
Play with and practice how to move into a focused state from other states
Reinforce the self-regulation steps or activities that work for them to focus
For # A, I use a water drawing board (aka: Buddha Board) because it offers a fun and compelling experience that requires focus. After you draw on the board with water, children watch the drawing change as the water dries. They organically become very focused, like cats with a mouse hole, as they watch the lines very slowly disappear.
Once they are focused, I ask them to identify how they feel in their bodies by noticing …
How are you breathing?
What’s your “inner speed” or how fast do you feel you are going inside?
How does your body feel?
What’s going on in your head?
What words would you use to describe how you are being right now?
I explain that the way they are being – is called: Focused. This “state” is what your parents and teachers are asking for when they say: focus and stay on task. I love seeing the “ah-ha” in their eyes when they connect focus as an action they can do in their bodies.
For #B and #C, I leave the board nearby and invite children to watch it again any time they feel scattered and want to re-focus themselves. The water board becomes a structure that kids can use to practice the skill of focusing when they lose focus. Giving children a way to build this skill, without shame or judgment, empowers them to discover what works best for them, to reinforce as needed, and to develop confidence in their own self-regulation!
#2 Drink Water
Humans are 60% – 75% water. Hydration is essential to the health of every function of our body and for conducting the mind’s millions of electrochemical messages. You would think that we would naturally prioritize drinking water throughout the day so we can feel, think, and do well. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
So, this is an important reminder. Just drinking more water will have a powerful positive effect on your health and your child’s ability to focus. Think about it, for little or no expense, and minimal effort, you and your whole family could think more clearly, digest better, move more easily, feel less stressed, get sick less often, experience fewer headaches, have more energy, improve your memory , and enjoy life more. So why not START.
The layman’s rule of thumb is basically half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 100 lbs, you should be drinking 50 ounces of water. That’s a little over 6 cups – so figure a glass of water 6 times throughout the day. Ideally, however, the best way to consume the water is by sipping every 20- 30 minutes. The body can better absorb it when taken in frequent small amounts. Also, be advised, other fluids do not count. Water is water. It is irreplaceable in the body for the following reasons.
Energy. Water generates electrical and magnetic energy within every cell and so will significantly reduce fatigue.
Digestion. Water is the body’s essential solvent and transportation system. It delivers oxygen, supports digestion, and enhances the absorption of nutrients.
Detoxification. Water is the body’s main vehicle for eliminating toxins and metabolic waste in the blood, liver, kidneys, bladder, bowels, skin and lungs.
Heart & Circulation. Healthy blood, which is 85 – 95 % water can efficiently remove toxins and fatty deposits in arteries to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. Dehydrated blood is thick and prone to clots and poor circulation.
Immune System. Drinking water daily improves immunity by supporting the healthy function of the colon, intestines, blood, and bone marrow.
Joints. Water cushions and lubricates the joints and spine while removing acid waste that can cause inflammation and pain.
Eyes & Skin. Hydration supports healthy skin and eyes.
Hormones. Water helps regulate hormone the production to prevent menstrual discomfort as well as loss of libido and impotence.
Sleep and Mood. Research shows that drinking plenty of water can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and decrease anxiety and depression.
# 3 Practice Proper Posture
Alignment matters. Practicing proper posture means that you pay attention to the alignment of not just your spine but also your head, neck, shoulders, rib cage, pelvis, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. How you hold yourself, send your weight through your joints, and move any part of your body has impact overtime – not just your physical health but also your mental, emotional, social, and professional health. If you are not properly aligned, if you have poor posture, or knocked knees, or hunched shoulders, you’ll pay for the misalignment with an injury, an illness, sluggish energy, less enjoyment, maybe even loss of a job. How we perceive and are perceived by others is directly related to the non-verbal messages given by posture. How you stand and move communicates who you are and influences how people feel about and with you.
Given the world we live in, proper posture is something you really have to work at – learn about, perfect, and practice. It’s not going to happen naturally because so many aspects of our lives work against it starting with birth trauma which can remain unresolved in the body constricting alignment. Then there’s the fact that unconsciously, your posture habits develop from the images you see in your family. That’s why kids stand the way their parents do. Other negative influences on proper posture are fast food nutrition, furniture, cars, sedentary activities and long hours of sitting during growth spurts. And finally, there are our mobile devices, which keep us rounded forward, looking down for way too much time a day. It’s no wonder that slumping is an epidemic – killing off focus, fun, connection, and vitality. When we are stooped or slouched, our muscles and ligaments struggle to keep balanced. This then leads to fatigue, back pain, headaches and lots of other problems. On the other hand, when you stand up straight and walk tall, you actually think, focus, and feel better. Practicing proper posture actually helps you feel calmer, more relaxed, and more physically and mentally able and stable.
Spinal health is the basis of balance and stability not just in our bodies, but in our minds and feelings, too. So, how do we help our children practice proper posture and in so doing, lay a foundation for wellness and the unfolding of their full potential.
Have your child checked out by a pediatric chiropractor or osteopath.
Notice how your child moves and relates to the world physically? Are they open and receptive, competent and curious, or withdrawn and worried, closed and careful? Understand that movement and posture are not just physical, they represent one’s mental-emotional state as well.
Support them in activities that help them feel strong and capable in their bodies, which then translate to feeling confidence in themselves as learners and contributors in the world.
Model good posture. Discuss good alignment in all the joints of the body and why it’s important. Notice other people’s posture and invite your kids to mimic them to play with how different postures feel and make them feel.
Why? Because the cross-crawl movement diffuses stress, energizes the body, balances the brain, and stimulates positive chemical and neurotropic messengers; and the slow, intentional movement grounds the body, resets the nervous system for alert receptivity, and focuses the brain.
This is not magic or rocket science, it is simple physiology. While you rhythmically shift weight from one foot to the other, you are using your core muscles and lighting up your neo-cortex, which controls movement. You are also activating your spine, and your vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which forces brain and body to both integrate and coordinate. While you touch opposite arm and leg, you stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain to work together for whole brain thinking. And finally, with slow, mindful movement, you ground and center all that energy for optimal brain – body function.
Cross crawl refers to movements in which we use opposition such as crawling, walking, running, and swimming. Opposition means that opposite sides of the body work together to coordinate the right arm and left leg, then the left arm and right leg.
Therapeutically, cross crawl refers to any intentional cross-lateral activity in which you cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching opposite hand and knee or foot. Performing this movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two, which is essential for physical coordination as well as cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, and hand-to-eye coordination.
Why is Cross-Crawl Beneficial?
As soon as we start to crawl, this cross-lateral pattern of movement stimulates more complex brain and nervous system development and integration. In addition to firing neural pathways in the right and left brain hemispheres simultaneously, a cross crawl movement stabilizes the pelvis while mobilizing the shoulders, reinforcing the walking-gait reflexes (1).
In short, any time you do cross crawl, you are re-integrating your brain and nervous system and re-organizing your mind-body connections (2). Because we are daily, hourly, being bombarded and impacted by multiple stimuli and tasks, practicing cross-crawl throughout the day is one of the best self-care activities you can do for yourself. This Valentine’s Day, love yourself and your family by building cross-crawl into your daily schedule. Think of it as a basic part of wellness, like drinking plenty of water. You will not only feel clearer, you will behave and perform better. Try it before homework, testing, or an important meeting, after anything stressful and between different kinds of activities. If you’ve been reading and it’s time to go play soccer – cross crawl. If you’re frustrated with a project – cross-crawl. You need to clear some cobwebs or recharge – cross crawl!
Through mind-body science, we now understand that physical coordination precedes cognitive coordination. The ability to do cross-lateral movements with the body literally lays the foundation for other cognitive abilities, such as readiness for fine motor academic work. Though it seems to be a fun, simple exercise, here’s what cross-crawl is doing for you physically and mentally:
Stabilizes your walking gait coordination – builds core strength
Energizes your body and calms your mind – releases tension and stress
Improves your eye teaming skills – essential for focus, reading, and writing
Enhances whole brain thinking – your left and right hemispheres work together
Develops proprioception – your spatial and kinesthetic awareness
Cross crawl also offers an effective way to reboot your nervous system and re-integrate mind and body. You can use it regularly to both discharge and recharge your attention and energy. It’s a great break from over- focusing and it works just as well to bring body and mind online. As a stress buster or a warm-up for doing your best, cross crawl has significant social-emotional benefits:
Cross-lateral Balancing Cat!
Clarity of thought
Physical coordination in general
How Do You Cross Crawl?
Stand with your feet apart and your arms open parallel to the ground. Shift your weight to your right foot, lift your left knee and touch it with your right hand. Step back to both feet and immediately shift weight to on your left foot as you lift your right knee and touch it with your left hand. Repeat this several times in a comfortable, upbeat, rhythmic way. Breathe fully and enjoy.
When Do You Do Cross Crawl?
Most adults can do cross crawl. However, like anything, the more you practice, the easier and more fluid and embodied the coordination pattern becomes. The age when children can intentionally cross crawl varies because they develop at different speeds. Some can easily balance and cross the mid-line of the body by the age of 4 and some find it challenging up to age of 6 or 7. It is age – appropriate for children ages 5 and under to automatically bring their hand to the same knee, demonstrating a same sided crawl (homo-lateral crawl).
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