Change the course of your baby's motor skills!
As a new parent, it’s not uncommon to get lots of advice - some helpful and some irritating. Most advice falls into a category I call ‘do-gooding’ and for the most part, it does good. For example, if you’re someone that worries a lot about whether your baby is on track with their milestones, it may be helpful for someone to support you with the phrase “don’t worry dear…. she’ll roll [sit/crawl/walk] when she’s ready.”
Whilst this is loosely true, it’s not very empowering. You see, you actually can make a difference in your baby’s motor skills. In fact, babies who practice different ways of moving with their parents have noticeable, long-lasting improvements in motor skills.
For those of you that are unconvinced, let me walk you through an easy-to-understand study. In 2012, Lobo & Galloway performed a randomised controlled trial with a small group of 2-month-old babies. One group shared 15 minutes of ‘social' experience with their parent each day for three weeks, and a second ‘physio’ group practiced physical skills with their parent for the same period.
Activities in the physio group included tummy time, pull to sit, supported sitting and standing, as well as practice moving hands to the middle; all chosen to enhance motor experiences using different postures and activities. Or in non-physio language… the parents' played actively with their babies for 15 minutes!
And at the end of the three weeks, the physio group had more advanced motor skills. They had better tummy time strength, were better at keeping their hands together, playing with toys, and holding their head up. Granted these findings aren’t a giant intellectual leap - you get better at what you practice, right?!
But here’s the kicker. Do you want to know what happened when they stopped practicing?
The physio group continued to make longer-term gains ahead of the social group. Their more advanced postural control, strength, and coordination primed them to be more ready for exploring new skills. They had an automatic bag of tricks that they could use to more quickly respond to disruptions in balance. And this meant they were able to crawl and walk five to six-weeks earlier than their study peers.
Interestingly, there were also changes in the parents in this study; what they learnt in three weeks was carried forward. What do I mean? Well, when you notice that your baby starts to reach for toys, what do you do? You give them more toys to reach for, which means more opportunities to practice reaching and exploring, and positive reinforcement for reaching as a motor skill. The study made the parents more receptive to noticing their baby’s physical skills… so they never really stopped practicing!
Of course, a million studies can’t change the direct experience you can have with your own baby. I encourage you to positively influence the motor skills that your baby is learning, by playing together in different positions, using a range of different movements, and importantly, being open to challenge them a little bit beyond what is easy or comfortable for them right now.
Most of all - have fun moving with your baby. For movement’s sake!