Having a healthy, vibrant adult body starts during childhood. Team sports, PE class and normal play aren’t enough to keep children’s bodies mobile, aligned and healthy.
Our bodies change in response to our environment – everything from the temperature, light and smell to the seating options, floor surface and air quality. School and home environments are where kids spend the most time. The school is a harder environment to control, but your house isn’t.
Is your home set up to promote healthy and normal physical development for your child? Most people’s homes aren’t. These five items can take your kids from sedentary and stiff to constantly moving.
1. Eliminate most “sitting” furniture.
Furniture like chairs and couches puts kids in a 90/90 position (90 degree angle and knees and hips) – a passive position that requires little strength, flexibility or muscle activity. Add a cushion and kids will likely sit for a long time without moving. As small children, we all have a natural drive to move around. However, we lose the drive as we get older. In theory, the cultural and social impetus to move should replace the biological imperative. It doesn’t work that way anymore, thoug; Instead of engaging in hunting, gardening and migrating kids now go to school and sit in a desk.
Why is that bad? A lifestyle of constant movement is important for healthy mental development, healthy structural development (bones and joints) and maintaining the level of flexibility that we are born with and are meant to maintain as adults (yes, your teenage son should still be able to sit in a deep squat position or touch his toes. So should your husband. So should your grandma.) Constant movement doesn’t mean running on a tr eadmill all day long – it means sitting criss cross applesauce, then squatting, then sitting with your legs wide apart, then kneeling, then playing hopscotch, then hanging from the monkey bars, then going inside and squatting on the floor again… and so on.
Sitting on the floor is self-limiting; Meaning, you get uncomfortable pretty fast and move into a different position. Sitting on the floor/eliminating “sitting furniture” is the easiest, most no-brainerest (definitely a made up word) way to encourage constant movement in your child’s life. Kids will naturally move from one position/activity to another as they regulate their comfort level and attention levels.
Are you totally confused by how this works in real life? Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well has a wonderful video tour of her mostly-furniture-free home. Click here to go to the post. Also, stay tuned for TLM tutorials on living without chairs.
Not ready to ditch the couches? Save them for guests and institute a “no sitting on the couch” rule. If your children have learned to stay away from great grandma’s China then they can also adapt to the new couch rule.
2. Introduce a squatty potty.
A squatty potty is a platform that you stand on while you use the traditional toilet, allowing you to descend into a squat position while you do your business. Yes, I know I’ve lost a lot of you right here! “Weird,” “Gross,” “Freaky,” you might be thinking.
First, let me tell you that many far eastern countries ONLY have squatty potties. As-in the toilet is actually sunken into the floor and you have to squat over it. I first saw them when I visited Japan. It was so shocking for me that I used an entire roll of film for toilet pictures. If you’ve never seen a squatty potty then head over to this Amazon.com Link.
Second, know that squatting is one of the most important positions to put your body in. It’s crucial for maintaining supple ankles, knees, hips and spines. It was also the only way we sat for centuries. My brother in law called me from Turkey a few months ago in disbelief because everyone squats there. He saw an extremely overweight, very old woman squatting at the bus stop and couldn’t believe his eyes. He wanted to take a picture to show me. Everyone is capable of squatting if they never stop squatting!
A squatty potty is part of a “lifestyle of movement.” Simply trying to squat more during the day may mean that you drop into a squat for 3 or 5 extra times per day. It becomes homework. However, if you had to squat every time you went to the bathroom then you’re naturally integrating several repetitions of squatting into your daily life. No need to think about it. No need to plan.
A side note: If you know anything about natural birthing methods then you probably know that the deep squat position is the best position to eliminate things from your body – like babies and *cough* other stuff. Ideally, your knees should always be above your pelvis during elimination. The higher your knees are the better the position. Traditional toilets place your thigh bone in line with or below your pelvis, so elimination requires straining (a major player in hemorrhoids). Interestingly, many babies and toddlers prefer to potty while squatting but are untrained to do so.
Don’t want people to think you or your kids are weird? Put the squatty potty platform in a bathroom that guests don’t use, or get a squatty potty platform that you can stash away when guests come. Teach your kids about the difference between the different ways of pottying and why they don’t have a squatty potty at school. My husband and I had many heated discussions about the squatty potty and if it would introduce unnecessary social challenges for our son – I believe that offering the squatty potty as an option and also offering the traditional potty as an option is the best course of action, provided that you explain to your child that they use the regular toilet outside the house.
As a side note, if you have daughters then the act of introducing the squatty potty is helping to educate them and prepare them for successful child birthing as adults. The oral tradition of birthing education has been lost over the last century, just as with breastfeeding, but it doesn’t have to be.
3. Have a place to “hang out.”
Hanging from the hands is an extremely important part of a child’s physical development. Most parents know that hanging helps develop upper body and core strength, but many don’t realize that it also helps with grip strength, hand articulation and wrist articulation that are crucial for writing.
Unfortunately, most kids only have access to a place to “hang out” when they are at a playground – nowadays, many kids don’t even have a good tree limb to hang from.
Even a baby and toddler can grab on to a bar and experiment with hanging. At 1.5 years old, hanging made my son giggle and he kept running back to his bar for more.
Get a child-sized pull-up bar or monkey bar set for your home. Some people install monkey bars near the ceiling of a long hallway with a wall ladder providing access for tiny people.
You can also use a trapeze, gymnastic rings or TRX Suspension Trainer – note, however, that A) Children love to swing on these things, which may or may not be a bad thing to you B) the straps are a potential strangulation hazard and your child should always be supervised during use. Also, remove any necklaces, hoodies with strings and jackets with strings.
If you’re worried about your child crash landing (let’s admit it, that’s likely!) then arrange some couch pillows, body pillows or gymnastics mats under their hanging area. You’re never too young OR too old to start hanging!
4. Have objects to climb.
Climbing is also a big part of a child’s physical development. If you make it to a playground or wooded area for your child’s daily dose of climbing then you may not need to introduce climbing objects in your home. However, if your schedule is inconsistent then you may want to introduce at-home options.
There’s no need to buy fancy playground equipment for them to climb on- consider using used items like an A-frame pool ladder, a wooden ladder installed on an angle or an ottoman. Don’t forget about trees, too – those are free! Get creative.
Just as with some hanging equipment, remove any necklaces, hoodies with strings and jackets with strings.
If you’re worried about your child crash landing (let’s admit it, that’s likely!) then arrange some couch pillows, body pillows or gymnastics mats under the hanging area.
5. Never introduce a pillow for sleeping.
Humans don’t actually need pillows, by design. Pillows are assistive devices for sleeping when no assistance is needed (Katy Bowman of Aligned and Well likens them to orthotics in your shoes). We adapt to the stimulus of the pillow, meaning simply that using a pillow makes you need a pillow.
Humans have been sleeping on the ground, without pillows, for thousands of years. Our bodies adapt to every situation we’re in – including our sleeping situation. If your torso, shoulders and neck are malleable, relaxed and flexible then you’ll have no problem sleeping without a pillow. It’s a a chicken-or-the-egg situation because sleeping without a pillow also keeps your body malleable, relaxed and flexible.
Children are born with the perfect structure for pillowless sleep, so don’t mess with a good thing.
Most children A) Never ask for a pillow but are given one by well meaning, concerned parents or B) Ask for one because they see that there parents have one.
Please note that older children who are used to sleeping with a pillow may need gentle exercises for regaining neck, shoulder and torso mobility before they are able to enjoy pillowless sleep. Gradually downsize the pillow from extra puffy, to normal, to flat, to a camping pillow, to a rolled towel to nothing. Immediately removing the pillow can lead to discomfort. You may find that children who sleep pillowless may have some discomfort while sleeping if their bodies are becoming immobile from other parts of their day, like sitting in a desk at school or riding in the car for long trips. This is a sign that daily activities need to become more body-friendly.
Kids are less likely to resist sleeping pillowless if they see their parents doing the same. Stay tuned for tips on helping adults sleep without a pillow.
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