“Loren Shlaes, an Alexander Technique teacher and Occupational Therapist in New York City talks with Robert Rickover about ways that parents can help their children develop good posture.”
Loren: “When you’re carried in a car seat, you’re moving in one plane. When you’re carried on your mother’s hip, every time your mother turns, you turn. Every time your mother bends, you bend. You have to constantly adjust your head position against gravity. That’s how you learn about your body in relation to the rest of the world. If you’re constantly strolled or carried in just one direction, you’re not going to learn about your position in space. That delays the maturation of your postural reflexes.”
Robert: “For parents — is your child spending an enormous amount of time just sitting and being moved around?”
Loren: “Everything the child knows before about the age of six comes from his physical relationship with the world. For him to know those things, he has to move through it freely. If we are impeding his ability to do that by strolling him everywhere, strapping him in a car seat, we’re denying the child an opportunity to develop his intellect and strength.”
“Get rid of the video games, turn the TV off, and organize a touch football game with the other kids in the neighborhood.”
Robert: “Furniture is chosen for schools from the point of view of what is most efficient for stacking and moving. For the custodial staff. From the perspective of different-sized children all sitting in these desks…”
Loren: “Chairs are hideously not user friendly. Societies that don’t depend on chairs don’t have back problems. Sitting in a chair is one of the worst things you can do for your back. It just encourages slumping.”
“If you are so small that your feet don’t touch the ground… There’s a postural signal that happens when your feet are flat on the floor. It sends an extensor signal up your legs and up your spine. It helps you to sit up.
“If a child is sitting with his legs dangling, he has no chance of sitting up straight.”
“Movement activates your nervous system. It allows you to be alert and aroused. Movement sends extensor tone. That gets you up against gravity. When you force a child to sit for long periods, it’s like taking the air out of a balloon. The longer they sit, the less juice they have.”
“I recently visited a kindergarten where the teacher was telling a story and she kept telling the children over and over to stop moving. Anyone with common sense would’ve said, boy, the children need to move instead of shouting at them over and over to stop moving.
“Sitting on the floor? A lot of children don’t have the postural stability to sit in that criss-cross applesauce position. They fall over. It’s uncomfortable. If they don’t have the strength to sit like that, how much attention are they going to have for what is going on in class?”
“I remember this poor child who couldn’t sit criss-cross. He compromised by sitting on his heels. The teacher refused to go on until he sat cross-legged.”
“If somebody came up to you and said, ‘Stand up straight!’, and you were not an Alexander teacher, you’d probably do some variation of pulling your head back, arching your back, squaring your shoulders, sticking out your chest, tightening your ribs and legs. And then you would think, yech, this feels terrible, and you’d just go back.”
“I would encourage parents to give their kids as much unstructured time to play as possible. I’m not talking about sending them to soccer. I’m talking to make sure they have time to go outside to play so they’re not spending their spare time outside of school slumping in front of video games and televisions.”
How much sleep should a child get? Toddlers and preschoolers should get about twelve hours of sleep. School aged children should get about ten hours of sleep. High school students should get about eight or nine.
Less sleep than this on a regular basis can cause a host of problems, including a compromised immune system, delays in language acquisition and neurological development, socialization and learning issues, anxiety, poor attention span and frustration tolerance, emotional fragility, impulsivity, and poor self regulation.
Many of the children I treat are not very good sleepers. They have trouble transitioning to bedtime, they have a hard time falling asleep once they get in bed, they wake up during the night, and they are crabby, irritable, and hard to get going in the morning.
If your child habitually wakes up tired, cranky, and hard to get going, he is either not getting enough sleep or the sleep that he does get is not resting him properly.
Unfortunately, modern life interferes with circadian rhythms and healthy sleep patterns. We no longer spend our time out of doors using our bodies for hunting, gathering, and planting, going to bed with the chickens and waking up with the roosters. Electric lights mean that we no longer need to obey the natural rhythms of the sun and moon, retiring when it is dark and being naturally awakened by light. Staying up late to work or read before the advent of electricity was uncomfortable, a strain on the eyes, and an enormous outlay of effort and expensive fuel. Since the advent of the light bulb and cheap electricity, it is thoughtlessly easy to stay up long past the time when we should be in bed.
Many of the children I treat can’t sit still simply because they need to move their bodies. In big cities like Manhattan, children don’t have the opportunity to run around freely, and their overscheduled parents don’t make the time to take them to the park. It often takes much convincing on my part that regular unstructured time spent out of doors, either at a park, beach, or playground, is an essential priority for children, and that constantly strapping children into strollers, car seats, high chairs, play pens, and anything else that prevents them from moving and exploring freely is impeding their neurological and cognitive development.
I often go to schools for observations and leave with the feeling that the adults who are responsible for planning the children’s days don’t always schedule activities with a realistic view of what is possible and what is not.
I recently observed a second grade classroom in which the children were required to sit quietly for 90 minutes and write without a break. After about 30 minutes had gone by, the teacher was expending a lot of energy trying to get her class to stay seated and focused. Ninety minutes for a group of seven year olds is a long, long time to sit still. Another time I observed a classroom of six year olds being given a highly structured, rather uninteresting craft activity to do. After about fifteen minutes, the teacher was working mighty hard to maintain decorum. The majority of the children had long since finished their task, and were more than ready to move on, but they were required to sit there for ten more minutes. The children got more and more restive and bored, and the teacher became sterner and sterner as she tried to force the children to sit. It would have been much less toxic to give them a second task or to give everyone a one minute structured movement break.