How to Fix Poor Posture
Rebecca Dalton of Sicklerville, N.J., worries that her 7-year-old son, Jake, is developing poor posture habits that will stay with him for the rest of his life. "I try to remind him to sit properly when he has computer time in our home office, but he forgets when he gets involved in the program," Dalton says. "Then when he plays X-Box, he slumps on the couch for an hour or more."
Homework time spells posture trouble, too. "When he does his homework at the kitchen table, he doesn't sit properly even when I tell him to," she says. "He is very fidgety."
Helping children recognize good posture can go a long way in their overall growth and development. Posture comes from a combination of factors, including good muscle control, strength and psychosocial issues such as self-confidence, according to Dr. Kristine Fortuna, assistant professor for the department of orthopedic surgery at Temple University in Philadelphia. "Teaching children self-confidence goes a long way to better posture," Dr. Fortuna says. "Also, strengthening abdominal and back muscles are also important."
Addressing Poor Posture
Parents need to figure out when the child is using poor posture, Dr. Fortuna says. Is it when he is studying? Or when he is on the computer? "Parents have to address each of those issues individually," Dr. Fortuna says.
- If the child is slouching when he is using his laptop computer in bed, set the child up in an appropriately sized desk and chair, which will enforce good posture by means of environment.
- If the child is slouching when she is walking or standing, parents can prompt her to stand up straight and put her shoulders back. "It is still important to do this, even though it may seem like it is falling on deaf ears," Dr. Fortuna says.
- It is helpful to mimic what bad posture look likes and then have the child do the same. Then demonstrate what good posture looks like and have them mimic it, too.
- Have the child lie prone on the floor and pretend he is Superman flying through the sky. Have him bring his shoulder blades together and place his arms out front. "This can help tone up the back muscles," Dr. Fortuna says.
Poor Posture Effects
"Strain issues, such as neck strain, low back brain or carpel tunnel syndrome are the most common effects of bad posture," Dr. Fortuna says. "These come from overuse of the muscle."
In the long-term, abnormal bone growth could result from poor posture. "Bones can grow abnormally if they have too much pressure put in one direction," Dr. Fortuna says. "As the bones change their shape it becomes much more difficult to correct the problem."
Sitting in certain positions can be harmful to the child's spine or result in other bad effects. "The keys are an appropriate-size chair and desk, making sure the child's feet are touching the ground and that they are not tilting their head up to look at an adult-size screen," Dr. Fortuna says. "They should be looking at an eye-level screen and have the appropriate-size keyboard and mouse, if possible."
When sitting in an adult-size chair, place pillows under the child and behind him to support the back. If the child is writing at a desk, tape the piece of paper in the direction position (directly in front and straight). This alone sometimes helps fix the posture problem.
"Children should sit in front of a video game or television for no more than 20 minutes at most," Dr. Fortuna says. She recommends frequent walking breaks, which are better for the back and eyes. Becoming involved with sports activities also helps develop muscular skills as well as self-confidence.
Finally, if the child's posture does not seem to improve, mention it to the doctor. "Sometimes there is a medical problem, such as scoliosis," Dr. Fortuna says.
Children do not often understand why posture matters because they rarely experience back pain, unlike many adults, says Matthew Goodemote, radio host of Back Talk and author of the e-book, Tips for Back Pain.
Kids under 5 typically have good posture. "Most kids will naturally sit up tall if placed in the middle of the floor," says Goodemote, adding that it is OK for them to sit slouched sometimes. "The main concern I have is long times spent in front of TVs and computer games. This is where time limits need to be set. Most kids automatically move out of 'harmful' postures, but setting a time limit can help make sure."
Goodemote has the following suggestions for parents:
- Lead by example. Parents should talk about their own poor postural habits and/or lead by example. Mentioning proper postural habits in daily conversations helps to bring it into the child's awareness. For example, you can say, "Oh, look, Mr. Green stands so tall" or "Poor Mrs. Jones, no wonder her back hurts so much; just look at how slouched she sits."
- You can comment on your own behavior, too. For example, "Oh there I go again sitting slouched" or "Boy, it sure feels good to sit up tall."
- Make it a game. Start off by asking your children: Who can sit slouched? Who can sit tall? To practice sitting slouched, round the back as much as possible and let the chest sink. To practice sitting tall, rock the pelvis forward and lift the chest up. This teaches the child to recognize the difference between "good" and "bad" posture, without labeling it good or bad. They also learn how to control their posture automatically. "Once the child is able to find out how to sit tall, notice the good behavior or remind (without nagging) when they lose the 'good' posture," Goodemote says.
- Use props. Kids love physioballs, which can be used to practice rocking down in a slouch and rocking up into good posture. Create a contest by asking who can sit the tallest the longest.
- Imagine a balloon is lifting you up. "By far the best way I have found to explain 'good' posture to a child is to ask the child to imagine their head being lifted by a balloon," Goodemote says. "Describe how the balloon rises up and pulls their bodies up, but does not lift their feet off the ground. Most kids know that balloons fly up into the air and can imagine themselves being lifted up. This helps them straighten up without having to 'know' what good posture is."
"Bringing proper posture to the child's awareness is probably enough for now," Goodemote says. "If we don't start talking about it now, it may become a major problem in the future."