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On Their Own: How To Stop Interfering With Your Child’s Development

By Lindsay Mumma, DC

It’s hard to give objective information about raising a child to a parent without them feeling offended, so when I see things that make me cringe, I usually bite my tongue. But when a friend asked me what I thought about putting her 3-month-old in a Bumbo seat, I realized that I need to speak up. Because I have studied developmental kinesiology and understand human biomechanics, I should be the one to tell people why and how to stop interfering with their child’s development.

This is not about my judging your parenting style or choices. This is a way for me to communicate to wellmeaning parents that they are doing more harm than good when it comes to child development and physical capabilities. Here is the important thing to remember: Your child will learn to move on his own. And if he isn’t allowed to learn on his own, he won’t learn how to do it properly. That means that if you try to teach your child how to roll over, how to sit up, how to stand, how to walk, or how to run, he won’t be doing it in the most efficient manner possible. Placing your child in a position that he is not able to hold himself will actually prevent him from learning how to achieve that position.

Children need to get a sense of how their bodies function in a gravity environment. This helps them coordinate and activate muscles in the proper sequence to initiate complex movements. Placing your child in any of the following devices is actually counterproductive to their learning and movements:

  • Bumbo seats (or any other seat that sits your child upright before she has sat up on her own)

  • ExerSaucers

  • Door jumpers

  • Baby walkers and push carts

  • Baby swings

So now you’re probably thinking that I’m either crazy or just mean. Here are the arguments for the use of the above devices, and why they don’t hold up.

“My baby wants to walk—he just can’t do it yet.”

When you stand an infant up, they will reflexively lift one leg. Reflexively. It looks like they’re walking. It’s adorable. It’s a reflex. This doesn’t mean your child is ready to walk and just needs a little assistance. If your child cannot walk without assistance, your child cannot walk. Instead of focusing on what your baby can’t do yet, sit back and enjoy what your baby can do. This change in perspective will go a long way.

“My baby gets frustrated when I lay her on the ground.”

Babies who are used to being held upright will likely need to gradually transition into lying comfortably on the floor. During this transitory period, I recommend spending time on the floor with your child so that she can enjoy your presence without being propped up. (You don’t even need to entertain her. Allow her to explore on her own, and appreciate how she does so.) She will gradually begin to enjoy feeling the pull of gravity as she explores her body’s capabilities. Have a safe place for your baby to play. Often parents put their children in devices to keep them safe, but it’s more effective for the child’s development if they are free to move about in a safe space rather than being confined to a device.

“He has so much fun jumping in his door jumper!”

I am not trying to prevent your child from having fun. But anyone who’s ever experienced low back pain knows how much “fun” that is. Oh!—it’s not. Don’t set your child up for poor posture or undue stress on his body. Once again, if your child cannot do something without assistance, he simply cannot do it. So if he can’t jump unless the bungee cords attached to your door are pulling him up, then he can’t jump. The patella (kneecap) doesn’t even ossify until 3 to 5 years of age. Repetitive bouncing on a knee that’s still forming from artificial jumping doesn’t sound like a great idea to me.

“She’ll only sleep in the swing.”

We all need sleep. If your child sleeps safely in a swing, then I say do what you have to so that everyone can rest. But remember that if your child is spending a significant amount of time in a reclined/ semi-supine position and strapped in, then she’ll need to make up for that during her waking hours with lots of free movement.

One more note to be conscious of when dealing with your little one: Assistance isn’t strictly limited to devices. If you are bent over holding your child’s hand so he can walk, then you are doing him (and likely your own low back) a disservice. If you are sitting your child up, you are simply acting as a live Bumbo seat and putting your child prematurely into a position he cannot achieve. Without going on a whole new tangent, think about the last time you completed a great feat all on your own. Would you have felt as proud if someone else did half of the work for you? Give your baby the chance to feel some satisfaction at his own accomplishments.

Before ExerSaucers, door jumpers, Bumbos, and baby walkers, humans learned to move. They learned instinctively and gradually. Trust that your baby is wired for success; trust that he’ll take that first step. And when he does, you’ll want to make sure that your hands are free so you can celebrate the accomplishment together with a hug. Because if he achieves this all on his own, he’s going to be pretty proud of himself—and you’ll be proud of him, too!

And finally: If you are concerned about your children’s development, or worry that they’ve spent too much time in assistive devices, it’s a great idea to have them checked by someone who understands biomechanics in tiny humans.