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It's All About the Core

By Deanie Barth, MSPT Physical Therapist


As an adult, you’re used to hearing how important it is to keep your core (trunk and abdominals) strong. The same is true for your infant and toddler. As a matter of fact, a strong core is the foundation towards achieving very important milestones such as crawling, standing and walking. And it all begins as soon as your child is born.


As soon as your child enters this world, curiosity will get the best of him. From birth to 3 months of age, your child will actually begin to work on his core strength. First, you will notice his attempts to lift his head when you hold him over your shoulder. It will begin with clumsy head bobbing, but sooner than you think he will begin to hold it upright to explore the world around him. He will also start to rotate his head in response to sounds. Next, you will find if you place him on his stomach, he will attempt to lift his head up.


Between 3 and 6 months, tummy time gets a little more serious. Your child’s neck strength will continue to develop and he will be able to hold his head up without bobbing and will take weight through his forearms. As his upper back and arms get stronger, you’ll see him attempt to push up on to extended arms. Pretty soon, he’ll be shifting his weight back and forth from one arm to the other and if you entice him with entertaining objects, he may even reach out for one while bearing all of his weight through only one arm. If he likes tummy time, you may find that when placed on his back, he will roll onto his stomach. This should be encouraged because it helps to strengthen abdominal muscles as well as back muscles.


Once your child reaches 6 months, he’ll really start moving. You’ll find if he doesn’t like tummy time, he’ll just flip himself right back onto his back. Although this can be frustrating for a parent who is trying to encourage tummy time, just remember that these repeated motions help to further strengthen his trunk. Around this time, your child will also start to sit without your support. It is recommended that you make his environment as soft as possible so that if he topples over he won’t be afraid to do it again. His balance will not be up to par and this is because of still inadequate trunk strength. However, the more he is able to recover from a loss of balance, the stronger he will become. A common mistake I see parents make is constantly holding their children at this time or allowing them to lean on them for support whenever they are sitting. While you don’t want to frustrate your child who may seek support, it is important to allow specified times of the day for your child to learn how to gain control over their body and this comes with trial and error. You can further strengthen your child’s upper back and abdominals by encouraging them to pull on your fingers to achieve sitting. You can start with your child lying on an incline for the beginner and then gradually reduce the incline and offer less support as your child becomes stronger.


As your child approaches 9 months, his trunk strength is developed well enough to get ready for locomotion. You will find that when he is placed on his stomach, he will start to push himself up onto all fours. He will also spend more time bearing weight through only one arm while playing with objects with the other. If you place one of his favorite toys just out of reach, the next thing you know, he’ll be crawling forward just slightly to retrieve it. Crawling not only will further strengthen his core and arms, but it also encourages reciprocal (alternating) movement of the lower extremities, which is necessary for walking.

Between 9 and 12 months your child will be crawling all over your home, but he will soon realize that the only way to truly get into mischief is to not only crawl over to the desired target, but to be able to reach it as well. He will begin attempting to pull to stand to objects and cruising along objects. At first, he will stand with his legs wide apart and if he does let go of the stabilizing object, he will hold his arms high in the air. Once again, this is because of inadequate trunk strength and he requires this positioning to maintain his balance. As his strength improves, so will his balance and with that you will see his base of support become more narrow and his arms drop lower and lower. Once your child is able to maintain his balance in standing unsupported, he will begin what most people believe to be the most important gross motor milestone of all – walking.


There are so many ways you can play with your child to strengthen their trunk and thereby achieve these very important milestones.


Here are a few of my favorites…


For tummy time, I love...

Kick and Play Playground Taggies Look At Me Mirror


For encouraging upright sitting while reaching with arms to retrieve objects...

Big Top Sounds Stacking Toy and Ball Game


Follow me Fred is the perfect incentive for a child to crawl.

Follow me Fred  


Together Tunes Cube is a great toy to work on standing.

Together Tunes Cube  


My all time favorite for the child who is about to walk on their own is the Chomp and Clack.

Chomp and Clack  


Remember, to safely achieve goals, your child should be supervised at all times and assisted when necessary. Also, keep in mind that the about mentioned time frames should serve as guidelines, not absolutes. However, if you feel your child is significantly behind these time frames, we recommend you consult your pediatrician.


If you liked this article, you may also want to read our other developmental articles:


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