Help Your Child to Attain a Perfect Posture
There are many factors and conditions that contribute to a child experiencing lower back, neck, leg and shoulder pain or tension headaches. Peer pressure, the stress of tests and exams and a child's constantly changing skeletal system are just a few of the causes of these symptoms and physical conditions. Although outside influences lend a hand in contributing to a child's back pain and headaches, many health experts are starting to speak out on how a child's posture is one of the most important factors in preventing these and other medical conditions.
You might expect your child's posture to be an indicator as to whether his back will be problematic or why he is not as energetic as you expect he should be. What you might not anticipate is that observing your child's posture opens a window into his level of self-confidence, self-esteem and ability to communicate.
According to Anthony Galante, D.C., of Algonquin, Ill., correct posture exists when several parts of your body are aligned. "If your bones behind your ears, shoulders, hips and ankle are perfectly straight when viewed from the side, and your shoulders and hips are level from the front or rear, your posture is virtually perfect," says Galante. While many make valiant attempts at achieving this enviably stance, the majority of young children and teenagers do not have nearly the posture they should – or could have.
How Posture Affects Your Child
It is natural to associate posture with standing or walking. However, a child's seated posture is often the area most in need of attention. Children spend a majority of their school day sitting at a desk. "It is common for kids to gather around a teacher during read aloud or on the gymnasium floor during an assembly," says Barbara Pietschman, a special education teacher in Twin Lakes, Wis. "It's amazing how many children automatically sit slouched or with their backs drastically rounded during these times."
Teens and tweens who spend a great deal of time on the computer or playing video games also fall prey to poor posture. Children will sit slouched in front of the monitor or on the floor and in bed for extended periods of time, playing games in positions that do not promote good spinal health and posture. "This type of repetitive sitting can lead to muscle imbalance and postural abnormalities," says Galante.
Spending a great deal of time studying at a desk can also cause your child to round his shoulders or hold his head down in front of him. "This often contributes to head and neck aches, which young children often describe as 'not feeling good' or being achy," Galante says. Poor posture that contributes to tension requires more energy. Prolonged tightened muscles, or tension, can lead to greater fatigue.
In addition to what your child's posture tells you about his physical health, looking at his posture can lead you inside your child's emotional and mental state of mind. How your child feels or how he did on his test is often evident in his posture. The degree at which he holds his head, the curve of his back or the height of his shoulders are all immediate indicators into your child's mental and emotional state of mind.
Subconsciously, posture also affects children socially. Girls who are self-conscious toward their height may slouch intentionally to appear shorter than they are. Young boys who carry extra pre-puberty 'baby fat' like to slouch to hide their chests. "My son was extremely self-conscious because he thought he was getting breasts," says Pietschman, who is also the mother of three. "He thought that by rounding his shoulders and back, no one would notice his front."
The first place to begin promoting better posture is recognizing what your child needs to improve. Observe him sitting, standing and walking to fully understand what his current posture is and what you hope for it to become. Does he slouch more when he's eating or talking on the phone? Is he more prone to walking with rounded shoulders or with his head down? Is his posture better or worse when he is interacting with peers?
Talk to your child to explain the benefits and effects of good posture. "It is obvious that the few children who sit straight in their chairs realize they stand out," says Pietschman. Communicating the importance of projecting self confidence, as well as promoting a healthy spinal system, you can help your child understand how his posture affects his entire life. You'll also give him the confidence to retain good posture despite the examples set by his peers.
A child who is shy or introverted is more likely to have poor posture than one who is outgoing or overtly social. Encouraging your child to look straight at you promotes good alignment. This technique provides the secondary benefit of helping him develop his communication skills. If your child is forced to look you in the eye when he's talking to you, he'll have to hold his head and neck upright.
Backpacks and books bags also are known to be at the root of poor adolescent posture. Carrying a heavy bag on one side of his body can throw a child's alignment off balance. Wearing a bag that evenly distributes the weight eliminates the need for a child to jut out his shoulder or hip to compensate for the extra weight on one side of his body.
Personal Health and Fitness Trainer Marc Gryzbowski of Miami, Fla., helps clients of all ages work toward improving their posture. "Under the guidance of a trainer or physician, stretching and strengthening core muscles can lead to improved posture," Gryzbowski says. He recommends incorporating a safe workout routine that balances flexibility, strength training and weight control to retrain your body's tendencies toward poor posture. "Spending time in front of a three-way mirror is another excellent way to get a view of how your posture looks," he says.
Subtle reminders to sit straight at the dinner table or stand straight on the way out the door to school provide consistent reinforcement for children. "Consulting your pediatrician, orthopedic specialist or chiropractor can offer several tips and strategies to improve your child's posture," Galante says.
The Positive of Proper Posture
Years ago, young debutantes would parade around their homes balancing books on top of their heads in an attempt to improve their posture and poise. While this may seem like a drastic exercise that promotes more silliness than self-improvement, surprisingly there are some significant benefits to this achievement. The natural posture, stance and gait that these young people developed is worthy of serious attention.
In addition to reducing the chances of experiencing head, neck and back pain, improving your child's posture offers numerous benefits. As he grows into a teenager and adult, he will appreciate that his clothes look better on a torso that appears longer and stronger due to healthy posture. A child who stands tall projects the idea that he is proud of himself and confident in his abilities. Good posture can also help your child be at ease when communicating with others or walking into strange surroundings.