In my last blog, I talked about the changes the pandemic has caused for our children: a heightened level of anxiety, boredom, lack of physical exercise and increased sitting and screen time. And guess what? Now we are seeing an increased number of children with neck pain, back pain and headaches. I want to build on the postural foundation ideas and focus on this time in a positive light. The holidays are coming and they can be an amazing opportunity to strengthen the bond you have with your child and help them develop core strength at the same time! If we focus on the positive and implement a few simple strategies, we can look back at this time with some fondness of a moment in time that gave us something amazingly precious…quality time to spend with our children.

Many children are challenged with limited core strength. If your child has a slouched posture, decreased coordination, decreased balance, delayed motor skills or is just a bit clumsy compared to peers, he or she will most likely benefit from core strengthening.

Core strength is the foundation of the body’s power. The strength of the abdomen, back and pelvic area is essential for progression through development and needs to increase as we grow and demand more from our bodies. Babies need a strong core to lift their head from the floor, crawl and sit up. Toddlers need a strong core to begin to balance in standing, walk and begin to pick up heavy objects. Older children need a strong core to sit up straight, have agility with running and coordinate more challenging aspects of sports. A child with a decrease in their core strength may be able to progress through these skills but may have been slower in their development and lacked the same quality as peers. They may have skipped crawling and prefer to sit on the floor with the legs in a “W” shape. This child is developing skills on top of a shakier foundation and may have trouble getting the same high-level results.

When in school, children do some core strengthening automatically when sitting in a classroom, carrying books and other heavy objects, participating in physical education and joining sports. For some children, this level of activity is enough to help them continue to adequately develop their core strength. For other children, they need some specific time and individual activities that will help them get a jump on increasing core strengthening. An additional complication is that distance learning has really thrown a wrench in helping maintain the “core strengthening structure.” More and more children are complaining of body aches, back pain and lack of energy. Parents have noted that they are needing to massage their children’s achy bodies more and more, see that their child’s posture when sitting at the computer is more slouched and relaxed and report it is more difficult to get their child to participate enthusiastically in physical activities.

With the holidays swiftly approaching, there is an opportunity to introduce your children to new ideas that will help strengthen their core but be fun at the same time. What better way to encourage your child’s development than to wrap it up for them to open!

BABIES: Babies need time on their tummy to develop core strength. At first, they can just lift their heads but as they get stronger, they are able to shift their weight down their body and lift their head, arms and legs off the surface as if they as swimming in air. This takes time so let’s make tummy time enjoyable with these gift ideas:

1. Floor mats: The first step is to create a safe and comfortable place for your baby to be on the tummy. Carpet or blankets can be too cushy and wood or tile is too hard. Here is a great floor mat that is just right (and can be cleaned easily)! Balance From Kid’s Puzzle Exercise Play Mat with EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, 9 Colors (36 Tiles): Sports & Outdoors

2. Color books: I like this one because it has black and white for young babies, bright colors and shapes for older babies. This can help entertain your baby while they are on their tummy.

3. Low light up toy: Finding a toy that is low to the ground as possible and has music and lights it key. This toy can be enjoyed from a young baby up until a child is sitting and moving. STEAM Life Educational Baby Musical Toys – Light Up Baby Toys Piano Keyboard – Toddler Piano with 5 Numbered Keys – Plays Songs and Music Memory Game Smart Baby Elephant Piano: Toys & Games

4. Have a young baby and want to go big time? Babacush is a way to place your baby on the tummy while in a swing or other piece of equipment. It secures the baby and has vibration and a heartbeat sound. This can help develop core strength from the very beginning of life. Babocush Limited | Babocush – Relieves babies from wind, colic and reflux

TODDLERS: Such a fun time! Your baby is standing, playing with balance and starting to walk. Core strength is important for upright sitting, quality in movement to decrease tripping and starting to manipulate heavy objects. Here are some gift ideas for this age!

1. Need more crawling time? Crawling is an amazing way to increase core strength. But now that your baby is walking more, how can we make this fun? Try a tunnel! Toddlers love going into and through and develop their core at the same time. There are many sizes but here is one for a smaller space. 6 Foot Play Tunnel – Indoor Crawl Tube for Kids | Adventure Pop Up Toy Tent – Sunny Days Entertainment: Toys & Games

2. Tall toys: Think about toys that have height. When a kiddo is in sitting, they will be encouraged to sit up tall to see and lift objects to the top. This type of toy is also helpful for when a child is playing in standing, many squats to pick up cars helps build the core too! LOYO Toddler Car Ramp Toys – Car Race Tracks for Toddlers with 10 Mini Cars, Ramp Racer Toy for Kids Gifts for 3 4 Years Old Boy: Toys & Games

3. Heavy toys: Encourage your child to lift heavier objects. A set of fun colored, soft weighted balls and a laundry basket to put them in is a great way to start. Just have you child play with lifting, rolling and then putting the balls back into the basket. The extra weight causes your child to work their core muscles during play.

OLDER CHILDREN: Older children need to continue to strengthen their core to be able to keep up with their peers in movements such as running, climbing and ball skills. We need to find activities that are fun so the child is engaged. Consider these activities:

1. Toys to engage the trunk such as the Zoom ball engage the trunk and work on eye-hand coordination which can lead up to ball catching and throwing success:

2. Floor Scooters can be used in so many ways, feet on, hands on or in sitting. Have you child sit on the scooter and use a toilet plunger to paddle the floor and move around the house for an awesome core workout:

3. How about Pilates for kids? A great way to do exercises that are fun and the whole family can join in! Pick 5 cards a day and do them together for some fun bonding time that benefits everyone!

Los Gatos Orthopedic Sports Therapy and Kids’ Perspective Physical Therapy wish everyone the best this holiday season. We are dedicated to continuing to promote the health and well-being of all people and especially children. We hope these ideas will help you feel good about offering your children fun, engaging toys that will help them with their strength and development. If you have concerns about your child’s posture, coordination or strength or if you child is frustrated that they have trouble with keeping up with their peers please contact us for help. We are always here for you.

About the Author

Kristine Nakaji

Kristine Nakaji is a board-certified pediatric clinical specialist and has been practicing pediatric physical therapy for 22 years. She loves working with children of all ages and is especially passionate about helping young infants and their families as well as educating others about the inclusion of all children with varying ability levels. Kris is very active in the Pediatric Section of the American Physical Therapy Association and believes her role is not only to support her profession but to continue to learn as well as share her knowledge. Kris is grateful for her husband of 20 years, their two teenage children and their two dogs. Kris is originally from Wisconsin and loves the outdoors. Her happy places include bobbing in the ocean, hiking deep in the woods and snuggling with her family on the couch.