So maybe you notice that your child hunches while he writes. Or she slumps at the dinner table. Or is it only my kids who manage to spend a good chunk of dinner halfway underneath the table?
And I think “Boo hoo hoo, so recently they were toddlers and it was as if they didn’t even know how to slouch. But now they are proving to be slouching prodigies!”
First of all, why should we care about our children’s posture? Well let’s start by briefly defining posture as the ability to be upright easily and without strain (for more details, read my “What is Good Posture?” blog). Being slumped over makes it harder to breathe, harder for circulation and digestion to function properly. And it may well lead to back and neck pain down the line. Also, how we posture, to use the verb form, is a terrific indicator of how we are balancing our systems overall. We can’t see the nervous system, directly. But it’s written all over the body. Hunching over or puffing up are not benign, but are instead powerful information about what is happening inside our children (and ourselves).
Helping our children maintain their natural poise might be one of the most powerful and long-lasting gifts we can give them.
Step 1: Start with YOURSELF (I mean it!)
Really and truly try everything below on yourself first. Don’t even tell your kids about it. They might notice on their own that you’re a little more upright or a little less harried. Which will give you the perfect opening to share what you’re learning… Even if they don’t notice it consciously, one of the (myriad—don’t get me started) reasons we slouch is that almost everyone else does too. From our earliest days we are surrounded by a sea of slumping grownups. So is it any wonder we unconsciously do the same? Do yourself a favor and harness your kids’ mirror neurons for good. If you’re more “UP,” they will start to be as well.
Step 2: Don’t nag them to Sit/Stand Up Straight (no matter what your Grandmother did to you)
I confess, this step is SOOOOO hard for me. But nagging, badgering and bullying are particularly ineffective educational strategies. In fact they often backfire. Instead try…
Step 3: Play Games and Cultivate Curiosity (like Mary Poppins)
· Can you imagine you have a floaty balloon head?
· What if your shoulders and your ears needed a little space from each other?
· Can you make yourself HEAVY? Now can you make yourself LIGHT?
· What happens if you think of yourself as Soft and Tall?
· Ask yourself: Am I SEEING? Am I BREATHING? Am I BALANCING?
· Say Hello:
[An aside (sort of): Do you ever resolve to be more patient with your children? I know I do ALL. THE. TIME. Unfortunately, I have come to believe that the intention to “be more patient” is basically worthless. The best intentions in this direction are vague and mushy and don’t help me in the moments when my hair spontaneously catches fire. But here’s a goal that might just work instead—CONNECT MORE. All of the games and activities above (and on the video) are silly, fun opportunities to connect. When my kids and I connect, there is less need for me to be “patient” because we are all happier and more present.]
Step 4: Model
When you want to say “Sit Up Straight (!!!),” instead take a moment to PAUSE, let yourself breathe, let yourself be Soft & Tall. Then ask your child to try one of the above with you.
Step 5: Time for a Change
Sometimes I think collapse is functional. We shut down when we are over-stimulated, over-tired, over-cooked. When you noticing your child slumping, maybe DON’T try to get them to not slump in whatever they are doing (homework? video game? noisy restaurant?). Instead their slumping may be valuable information that they desperately need to change position or activity or venue.
Now I realize that these activities are geared toward younger children. My teen students might be okay with a “floaty balloon head” because they can dig silliness. And because I’m not their mother. Please be creative in adapting these ideas to your surly teenager and then report back so I have a head start!