We had a favorite quote at our house when someone was being forced to do something he really didn’t want to do. It comes from the story of a young girl sitting next to her father during a rather long sermon at church. She kept trying to stand up in the pew, but was gently, yet firmly, forced to sit down and quietly admonished to be still. Finally the father noticed she was complying, and thinking to offer her an approving nod, he met her bright eyes staring into his. She tried to quietly whisper to him, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!” The stifled giggles from people sitting nearby gave proof of her inability to speak softly. Her desire to move about instead of sitting still is typical of all young children.
The illustration above evokes several topics for discussion: when a child should be required to sit still and for what length of time, when to teach self-control skills to children, why children find it so hard to sit still, how to train a child to sit still, and I’m sure there are more ideas we could discuss. Although a child needs to be trained to sit for appropriate times such as at meals and a reasonable length during a church service, I have chosen in this post to discuss the WHY question. Why do children find it so hard to sit still? Understanding why will help you better prepare your child for a necessary period of stillness.
Children need to move.
Children don’t want to sit still because they NEED to move. From birth, movement triggers synapse connections in the neural structure of the brain. Movement is vital to your child’s brain development. So, carry your infant, strapped to you in a sling or front carrier. And provide ample time for your young child to move: rolling, crawling, walking, running, skipping, spinning, hanging upside-down, swinging, crab-walking, bear-walking, hopping, jumping, climbing, doing summersaults, and eventually cartwheels. Please do not hinder your children, especially your very young ones, from the movement they need. Encourage it!
Is there ever a time a young child should be still?
Yes, of course! Appropriate rest is necessary for health and vitality. Additionally, your child needs opportunities to be still and think, some down time to allow neural connections to solidify in his brain. Training for meal times and other reasonable “sitting experiences” is important habit development.
Reading aloud to your child, among many other advantages, is also teaching your child to be still. For a list of our favorite preschool books, click here. If your Wiggly Willy just has to move about while you read, give him something quiet to do with his hands, purchase a Wiggle Cushion, or allow him to listen while sitting on a large fitness ball. Some children cannot listen unless they are moving. It is possible for them to move “quietly,” and gentle training will help them learn when and how. As your child grows older, sitting still will be less strenuous for him, if he has had plenty of time for brain and muscle tone development and sensory integration through movement.
- There is growing concern about the lack of appropriate brain development in children because of increased time spent indoors looking at screens, whether computer, TV, phone, or notebook-type screens. This passive brain activity creates mental lethargy and prohibits some imperative developmental needs such as muscle tone, neural brain connectivity, and vestibular sensory development. Lest you believe I am anti-computer, let me assure you, I am not. I desire to show you the need to allow your child’s brain to develop first, before you allow him to use a computer.
- Another enemy to your child’s brain development is beginning academic work before ages six or seven. Brain connections made through movement and play cannot be skipped for more advanced connections. It would be like building a house without a foundation.
- The consequences of ignoring this fact can be long-lasting. The development of eye muscles is vital to reading success. According to developmental optometrist, Dr. Samuel Oliphant, this growth and development is not completed until about age eight. Forcing close work, as the motor work of reading demands, can cause visual problems such as myopia, nearsightedness.
Where is the best place for your child to develop his brain? Outdoors! Outdoor play encourages movement, frees the eyes from strain and the central nervous system from tension, develops muscle tone, and encourages vital connections in the brain of your child.
Give your child the advantage of movement for healthy brain development.
Suggested authors for further research:
Dr. Jane Healy
Sally Goddard Blythe
Dr. A. Jane Ayres