Adults and Children

Some mistakes you can avoid                 What you can do                 Further advice

Many parents worry about their children's "posture".
The word seems to imply that we all know what good and bad posture is - but do we?
Telling kids about "posture" has already caused enough trouble!

Reason to worry
The frequency of back problems in today's school children is enough reason to worry.
It is harder for parents to know what to do about it.
When should you say something?
When will your words do more harm than good?

Those nice little backs and shoulders pleased you so much when your children were young.
It is so upsetting to see them growing up slumped and round-shouldered.
You know that habits formed now will influence their health all through life.
Any good parent would be concerned.

I know! Yet, after more than thirty years of dealing with such habits and problems, I'm going to ask you first

Is it good advice?
A lot of the postural advice you hear is likely to make matters worse.
Ask yourself:
How many adults look as shapely and move as gracefully as a pre-school child?
Can any grown-ups you know yell for ages like a baby without running out of breath?

So who are the experts? There's a lot we can learn from the very young, if only we will!


Some mistakes you can avoid
So first, some DON'Ts

DON'T say "Pick your feet up."
This usually results in stiffening, and in lasting bad habits of walking.
Scuffed shoes are a small price to pay for avoiding this.
Small children use their legs and feet naturally, better than most adults.

DON'T say "Stand up straight" or "Sit up straight."
Children don't know what you mean by this - do you honestly know yourself?

Youngsters will either make unsuitable efforts that they cannot maintain,
or will resent being told what to do, and slouch on purpose.
Or both!

DON'T say "Shoulders back!"
This really is something you should NEVER say.
It can be very hard to resist.
Of course you don't want your child to grow up "round-shouldered".

But what you are seeing is that the child is narrow across the front of the chest.
Pulling the shoulders back is no solution.
It just makes the child narrow across the back, too.
So now there are two problems instead of one.

And several new problems are created:
Natural breathing is interfered with.
The normal relationship of head, neck and shoulders gets all upset.
The way is paved for back problems later on.

DON'T say "Take a deep breath," or "Breathe deeply".
How a person breathes is a by-product of how he or she stands, sits, moves in general.
Nothing at all is gained by making a problem out of what babies do perfectly.
Why create complications?

What you can do

You, as a parent can do a tremendous lot to protect your child from influences that make things go wrong. The usual culprits are


Remember, first, that all human beings are extremely imitative, especially children. They imitate each other - it's part of growing up, of being accepted.
They experiment with imitating their teachers and other adults.
But most of all, from a very early age, quite unconsciously, they imitate their parents. That is why certain ways of standing and moving seem to "run in the family" - not so much inherited as unconsciously copied. So:

Set a good example
It's one of the greatest things you can do for your children.
Don't be like some parents I have known, who bring me their children and sit doing their best to twist themselves into a pretzel while complaining, in front of the kid, about its posture!

Of course, you see what the children are doing.
But you may not be aware of what you are doing to yourself!
Perhaps you didn't have a good example to follow when you were small.
This is very often the case.
It would be pointless to blame yourself for what is not your fault.

A lot of people are very concerned about this kind of thing these days.
They make huge efforts to improve themselves by exercises of one sort or another. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not, because there are too many factors involved.

Until recently, it has been difficult to be well informed about the fundamental facts that influence how we move. (See reading list)

Some children complain that "school is boring".
Is it that they don't understand the lessons?
Or are they adopting an attitude because of "peer pressure"?
What are you interested in? Is it something your kids can share?
Can you help to get them interested? - tactfully, of course!

Remember, too, that a certain amount of boredom can be quite fruitful.
A child that is always artificially amused will miss many interesting things.

Children and adolescents are often genuinely horribly tired.

Some schools expect them to carry heavy school bags around from place to place, all day. And not only books but sports kit, musical instruments, etc.

Parents should kick up a fuss!
It must be possible to run a school without undermining children's health.
Lockers can be built; timetables can be reorganised.
Don't stand for it. Complain !

Of course you do everything possible to protect your child from physical danger and from every kind of bullying.
Some less obvious things that will produce similar postural reactions:
fear of looking foolish,
fear of not knowing the right answer,
fear of being a bit brighter than the peer group.

Adolescents are often self-conscious. You can tell by how they stand.
Boys who suddenly "shoot up" taller than their parents,
girls who develop a woman's figure before they feel grown-up,
often slouch and thrust their hips forward.
This makes them seem shorter than they are - but it's not good for their health.

This phase calls for a lot of discretion.
Try not to say anything that will make them more self-conscious.
Example is better than nagging!


Further advice

Let them be natural

"Baby-walkers" may be convenient for busy mums, but there's a catch.
Going about on all fours is vitally important for future development.
Some parents try to hurry kids through this phase.
(They want their off-spring to walk before the child next door.)
If only they knew the damage that is done by this sort of misplaced competitiveness!

The weakest backs I have seen were in adults who did not crawl enough as children. Sometimes, too, there is a link with dyslexia.

If a child doesn't like it on all fours, invent games that can only be played that way.
It will do you good, too.


Please don't give in to allowing high heels and platform soles.
The damage to backs, feet and legs in just not worth it.

The "gasping" habit

Some youngsters get into very bad breathing habits.
This can be just because they have so much to say.
They are afraid they won't be able to tell you all about it before some interruption.
So they gasp continually, in case they run out of breath before they've said it all!

Try to have time to sit down and listen calmly to each child in turn - and make sure you don't fall into the gasping habit yourself! It can be quite contagious, I warn you.


Very soft "easy" chairs and deep sofas are not good for children - nor for you!
Kids sink into them and sit terribly badly in front of the TV.
The way they sit at computers is often harmful, too.
You might try limiting TV watching and computer games, by proposing other interesting things to do.

When small children sit at a table or desk, see that their feet are supported.
For sitting to eat, write, or otherwise use the hands, chairs should be flat and firm, not tilted backwards.

Mistakes are OK

Most people seem to have endless patience with tiny children.
So the child takes it as its right to make mistakes, to mispronounce words, or
to stand up and hastily sit on the floor when it loses its balance.

Could this have something to do with the amazing amount babies manage to learn in the first two years or so of life?
Adult patience tends to fade as kids get older.
At school and at home, they are expected to learn quickly, to produce the right answer, to do things "at once if not sooner".

Above all, try to protect your child from the hurry and bustle that make it nervous. That is not so easy, because it is not only up to you: school has a lot to do with it.
But you can introduce the idea that
experimenting is OK,
mistakes are OK,
stopping to think how to do something is sensible.

If your home atmosphere is such that it is seen as a good idea to take the necessary time to make choices, you will have given your kids a valuable and lasting gift.

Some of my advice may surprise you - particularly the DON'Ts. Fuller explanations and practical suggestions can be found in my book Mind and Muscle - an owner's handbook by Elizabeth Langford, Antwerpen (Belgium) : Garant, 2008, ISBN 978-90-441-2267-1.
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Elizabeth Langford, 2001