What I Wish Every Parent Knew: Core Strength

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series What I Wish Every Parent Knew

Before I became a parent, I was an Occupational Therapist, working with children and people of all ages with special needs since 1993, and as a pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) since 2002.

For children, their “occupations” are play and school. This is how they learn, grow, and develop.

Once I had my own children, my perspective and practice as an OT changed for the better. Likewise, my knowledge of development has enhanced my parenting. This is the first in a series of posts on what I have found most beneficial from my professional knowledge to my parenting skills.

I am by no means claiming to be an expert parent. I am in the trenches with every other mom just doing my best every day. But hopefully you will find some new information that will benefit you and your child.

The first thing I wish every parent knew about child development is the importance of core strength and position as the foundation for fine and gross motor skills, speech and language, and academic skills.

pyramid(1) copy

Often, parents seek support because they recognize that their child is having difficulty communicating. It is relatively easy to spot and critically important. However, speech and language skills are near the top of the “pyramid of development” (as pictured above) and intervention aimed there, while disregarding the foundation, will not be as effective. OTs along with our Physical Therapist colleagues (if we’re lucky enough to have one) look at a child’s sensory-motor function as a basis for growth and development.

Our bodies get information from our environments by moving and sensing which then gets processed for a physical response. This happens unconsciously all day long, but if there is a glitch in the loop, everything gets thrown off. Glitches happen for a number of reasons, many which are beyond your control. What you can do is ensure your child has plenty of opportunities to develop core strength, and pay attention to their position and movements.

Here are my top recommendations for working on Core Strength:

  • Starting with tummy time in infancy and continuing until they graduate high school, encourage your child to play in different positions. Lying on tummy propped on elbows, kneeling on haunches, tall kneeling, kneeling on all-fours, standing, criss-cross sitting, side-sitting, and sitting on a child-sized chair to name some. Change it up!  Many kids are comfortable in an upright position because that’s where they’ve spent their whole lives (in car seat, baby chair, swing, sling, etc.) but kids need other positions to develop balanced muscles and stability in their hips and chest, not to mention their visual system. Good core strength and stability allows us to have good movements and control with our limbs, hands and fingers.
  • Remember wheelbarrow walks from your childhood?! They are an oldie-but-goodie that improve core strength. Have some fun with your kids with daily wheelbarrow races, and throw in some animal walks too. Choose one transition a day (for example, going to the supper table) and do a wheelbarrow or animal walk to get there. Or, pull a stuffie from the bin then move like that animal. Bear walks, crawling, slithering like a snake, leap frogs, bunny hops – all of these tap into the foundation skills in a playful, fun way.
    Core Strength Wheelbarrow Racing
  • Go to the park to climb, swing, slide, walk along a balance beam. In the midst of structured organized sports and recreation activities, don’t miss the chance to let your kids freely explore movement in the park environment. Can’t get to the park? Consider how you can replicate those moves indoors. Tape a “balance beam” on the floor, crawl up and down the stairs, or jump on the bed. Set some safety rules, then get moving. Even better, set up an indoor obstacle course using your household furniture and objects.IMG_1457
  • Core strength is connected to attention, anxiety and behaviour. When kids hold their breath and brace themselves or take big belly breaths (for example, in an attempt at deep breathing), this can trigger the fight/fright/flight response and heighten their awareness of everything in their environment, making it appear as if they are distracted and inattentive. Instead, encourage your child to sit or lie in a comfortable position and take deep breaths to expand the lower ribs: which engages the core muscles. Also encourage kids to breathe throughout their movements.

There are many resources available today for parents, and activities such as yoga classes, indoor soccer, and skating lessons. All of these are good but they are not “required”. For most kids, if you get down on their level, follow their lead, play and have fun, they will naturally engage in activities and positions that will develop foundational core strength.

If you’re a parent struggling to get your baby to do tummy time, or wondering whether they really need to crawl, or trying to muster the energy to hit the park, press on and know that you are investing in their foundational skills and setting them up for success as they continue to grow and learn.

Photo copyrights to This Bird's Day (Sheri Landry)

Series NavigationWhat I Wish Every Parent Knew: Fine Motor Skills >>
Found in Back to School, Kids

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Donna Sep 16, 2017, 7:47 am

    Beautifully written. Thank you, Nicole. Very refreshing to see something that explains depth of SI roots, beyond “hyper / hypo” models…which often look far too high on that pyramid. Appreciate your post! Donna (fellow OT)

  • Joyce Jackson Jun 19, 2016, 10:29 am

    As a grandmother of 5 autistic boys I found your article inspiring though I’ll have to use that inspiration to muster the energy to actively play with them. But thanks

    • Sheri Landry Jun 26, 2016, 4:21 pm

      I’m glad you like it Joyce. Finding the energy as an adult is hard, I agree. Good luck.

  • Annie Craven Nov 13, 2013, 4:02 pm

    Kids are amazing and they grow up so fast. It’s important to help them put their best foot forward. Thanks for sharing the great tips!

  • Raphael Love Nov 8, 2013, 3:15 pm

    Activity is the key to having strong kids and helping them learn the power of interaction. It was very interesting to learn about the other benefits as well.

    • Nicole Rowan Nov 8, 2013, 9:54 pm

      Thanks for reading Raphael! It’s amazing to me how much more kids talk and interact when they are moving!

  • robertz Nov 8, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Sounds good advice, Nicole. It’s frightening to read of young children starting school unable to walk properly or talk. They need to find out about themselves and the world around us and how wonderful it is to be here.

    • Nicole Rowan Nov 8, 2013, 9:52 pm

      Thanks for reading! I agree – encouraging lots of natural experiences will help prepare kids for school!