Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Proprioception: Knowing Where You Are In Space

Proprioception is one of the less known senses. It is the sense that lets you know where you are in space. This is needed to not bump into things or to turn around and back into a chair without falling. It also contributes to coordination, grading the pressure of your movements, timing, and speed. If it weren't for proprioception, we would look clumsy during our movements and they would appear segmented or robotic. Timing and speed are obvious during a game of soccer or when a baby is learning to walk and then can't stop because he's using momentum! Also, proprioception deals with grading movements such as when you pick up an item you think will be heavy, but it was light-weight. If your body didn't correct for this, the item would go flying across the room. Kids with problems with proprioception may break toys, crayons, and pencils accidentally. They may also be messy eaters and known as a "Dennis the Menace" or an "accident waiting to happen".

So, where are the receptors for proprioception? All throughout your body, but especially at your joints, muscles, and also within your vestibular system (sense of balance and motion within the inner ear). But enough of the technical lingo. Below are some suggestions on promoting a good sense of proprioception in babies and toddlers:

  • Let the children play with a variety of toys: balls to roll, rolling cars, tummy time mat, exercise ball, rocking horse, ride-on toy, push and pull toys such as a wagon, doll stroller, or "grocery cart"
  • Let the children play in a variety of positions: tummy time, sitting, rolling, & standing while on the floor; climbing on the furniture and crawling under or over items.
  • Let the children play in a variety of locations: inside different rooms of the home, restaurant indoor playground, playground indoors at mall. Outdoors: your yard, park, swinmming pool, etc.
  • Play animal walks: bear crawl (AKA downward dog in the yoga world), donkey kicks, slithering snakes on the belly, crabwalk, and any other pose that requres that the child hold his body weight with his muscles
  • Resistive activities: carry backpack or fanny pack, push wagon or inverted laundry basket, pulling toys that are lying on a blanket for a "magic carpet" ride, or any activity that is "heavy work". Remember to limit the weight to only an extra 5-10% of the child's body weight. 2 rolls of pennies is a pound and these rolls could be placed within a backpack or pockets to jacket to add resistance as the toddler is running around. Adult wrist weights could also be added to the tot's ankles for extra resistance. If the tot weighs 30 lbs., do not add more than 3 lb. of weights to his ankles.
  • Basically, remember that the first two years of life are known in the child development world as the sensorimotor stage. Young little ones should not be couch potatoes...which means neither should we as parents and/or caregivers. Get down on the floor and JUST PLAY!
  • During daily routines, offer sensory input to all of the senses: touch, sight, movement, taste, smell, hearing. See for ideas to do this with a baby during daily events such as car rides, bathing, etc. as well as during play
  • Minimize the time a baby is in a positioning device! The baby needs to feel movement against gravity unassisted by a device that he/she is likely to lean on.
  • Exercise classes such as "mommy and me" are fun too
  • Infant massage aids in body-in-space awareness as well as the sense of touch

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Paint" With Water

Most young kids love painting. I know that mine do. One way to make painting less messy is to paint with water while outdoors. This can occur with a brush, sponge, hands, and feet. Painting is a great way to develop the tactile sense! Some ideas include:

  • Get a large bowl of water and a wide paint brush. Then, start "painting" the bricks or wood fence outside. The water dries quickly when it's sunny outside.
  • Get a large bowl of water and place it on the drive way or patio. Then, you can put your hands or feet in the water, and make "tracks" on the cement surface.
  • Get a wet sponge and dab it on the sidewalk while drawing different designs or pictures.

With all of these ideas, once the surface is dry, the child can start all over again!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Splish, Splash, Have Fun During Bath!

Bathtime is one of my children's favorite routines! Approximately 7:15 pm everynight, my husband goes upstairs to our children's bathroom and starts the water. As soon as my 14 month old son hears the water, he comes running around the corner, crawls up the stairs (supervised by me), and then rushes to attempt to climb in the tub. Once in there, he then splashes and plays with bath toys. His favorite toy is my daughter's pink and blue mermaid with blue hair. Her favorite toy is farm animals and alphabet letters that cling on to the side of the tub. The only problem in our home to bath time is that neither child wants it to end, especially when they bathe together!

Bathtime is a great time to promote sensory development.

  • Tactile (touch) input is provided by the water, splashing, playing, and washing body parts.

  • Vestibular (movement and balance) input is provided by tilting the head back to wash hair, lying down in the bath tub, climbing in and out of the tub, and sitting upright.

  • Auditory input is provided by the sound of the running water and all of the conversation or singing that takes place.

  • Visual input is provided by, of course, everything that is in the tub and in the room within sight!

  • Smell input is provided by the scent of soaps, shampoos, and conditioners.

  • Hopefully the taste sensations are not stimulated...wouldn't want the kiddos to drink the bath water!

If possible make the kid's bathtime as fun as possible. Try bathtub paint or crayons, water or beach toys, foam soap, and fun smelling shampoo and/or conditioner. Character towels and washcloths such as Dora or Sesame Street characters have a way of making things fun, too.

Adaptations for children with touch sensitivity include providing firm hand circles on the head during hair washing, use a sun visor to keep water from dripping on the head, soft or infant washcloths, and infant massage or lotion rubs after the bath.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Child Development Information in Various Languages

I stumbled upon a website that will translate any website or document into a different language. Although I didn't memorize every language available, I do know that it will translate a website from spanish to english or english to spanish. Other languages I saw were portuguese, french, chinese, russian, and german. This is a great site because it is free. It also means that all of this wonderful information out there on child development can be understood by many more people!

As a professional that works with families of infants and toddlers from other cultures and who speak other languages, this is huge. For some reason, I do not have tons of child development information in chinese on the bookshelves in my study! I also know that you can go to search engines from other countries, pull up sites or articles, and then have them translated into english (or any other language you want).

One good site that offers information on infant and toddler development in english and spanish is For the most part, the site is in english. But some of the articles and handouts can be downloaded in spanish as well as english. If you know of any other great sites in other languages on child development in young children, send a comment my way!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Infant Massage

I am trying to remember the last time I had a professional's been a while. But what I do remember about the massage session was that the therapist was playing nature music in the background, had a candle burning, dimmed the lights, and was wearing white and blue tennis shoes. I remember what her tennis shoes looked like because I was up on this special table with my head faced toward the floor looking between a special pillow with a hole in the middle. What I also remember about that massage as well as all of the other professional massages I have received, was that she started to massage my back first then progressed to the legs/feet, went back to my back muscles next, progressed to my arms/ shoulders, and finished off with my neck/ head. I am relaxed just thinking about it except for the special pillow apparatus that you stick your face on...those things are never comfortable for me, maybe because I am short and they just don't fit me right.?.?

Massaging babies is a completely different experience than a professional massage for an adult. There isn't a certain progression of body parts that must be massaged and the baby can be in a variety of postures. Also, the time can vary from 3 minutes to as long as the baby and/or you last. This is different from the 1 hour massage you pay for as an adult, because when the clock strikes a certain is over!

Both of my babies thoroughly enjoyed being massaged. I went through the training to be a certified infant touch & massage instructor (CITMI) when my daughter was two years old. At the time, I needed someone to practice on, so my daughter was quite lucky. For the whole next year everytime she had a belly ache, she would come lay next to me and say "Soj me mama"...translation "Please give me a massage on my belly, mom". She not only enjoyed the touch and bond between her and I, she figured out that her belly ache went away shortly after the massage.

You can massage your baby anywhere: on the changing table or floor right after a diaper change, after a bath, during play while sitting upright, before a nap while lying down, as you are holding the baby over your shoulder- especially when he/she has constipation, and the list goes on. Don't worry about the baby squirming or being in a "just right" position. The touch and massage is the important part. It is usually best to use slower, slightly firm strokes with an open palm when giving a baby a massage.

Massage is safe for the majority of infants even those who are medically fragile. There are numerous benefits to massage including (all of which have been researched):

  • enhanced motor development

  • reduction of stress

  • improved sleep patterns

  • increased weight gain in premature infants

  • improved immunity

  • help for depressed infants and mothers

  • improved bonding and attachment with parents, both Dad and Mom

  • helpful for babies exposed to cocaine in-utero

  • improved digestion

  • improved sensory awareness & sensory integration

Typically when I train parents in how to massage their own baby, I break up the lessons in to at least 3 sessions. This is because there are sooooo many strokes and reasons for a massage. Of course, the babies that I work with as an occupational therapist may have tight muscles such as with cerebral palsy, indigestion due to medical problems or reflux, touch sensitivity due to problems with sensory integration, floppy muscles due to a genetic syndrome or developmental delay, as well as a few other issues. So, if you want to attempt infant massage on a typcially developing infant (or toddler or child), then the strokes may be learned in less sessions...maybe.

If you do not have access to a massage group or individual instructor in your area, that is okay. There are lots of good manuals, DVD/videos, and books out there on massage. If you are not into reading or watching DVDs, then at least massage your baby in a way that you would think might feel good. Though, be aware that without reading or being instructed, you may not know certain precautions. For example, always stroke the belly in a clock-wise direction which is with the flow of digestion in the intestines. You wouldn't want to stroke the opposite way and cause or worsen the constipation! In class, video, or in a book, you may also learn how to read the signals a baby is giving you and his sleep / wake levels. Understanding these two things lets you know when is and isn't a good time for a massage. At on the "alertness & crying" page this information is given in detail.

Also, remember to not use lotion or scented oils like you would with an adult. This is because babies and young children often have their hands in their mouth or are licking things. Instead use a small amount of non-allergenic cooking oil such as olive or canola. I took my son to a massage group and out of respect used the scented massage oil they gave me. Well, guess what. He had an allergic reaction to it! So, be careful. You could also use arrow root powder. Do not use talcum or baby powder. Now, go on, go massage your little one!