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Supporting Your Child’s Posture for Meals (and Schoolwork)

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Postural stability is an essential aspect of your child’s learning, whether they are learning how to eat, learning about new foods, or learning about math! It supports your child not only at mealtimes but also for online school and homework.

What do we mean by postural stability?

Postural stability involves many different demands that are required by your body. Your body must have enough motor control to stabilize yourself in the environment. That means it must have enough control to go about whatever motor plan you are doing (i.e., walking down a hallway, sitting in a chair, etc.). Postural stability also uses sensory inputs to tell you where your body is in space. These senses include your vision, touch, proprioception (input into your muscles and joints), and your vestibular system (i.e., telling you information about motion, head position, balance, and spatial orientation). You have to be able to integrate these sensory systems with the action of the muscles. While you are doing all of this, you have to be able to keep the body’s center of mass within its base of support. It is a lot! If we are stable, we don’t have to worry as much about all of these other factors. However, if there are any difficulties with stability, you can see how hard it may be to also try to focus on something new or tricky, like eating or schoolwork.

Why is Postural Stability so important?

Postural Stability is actually our bodies’ second priority (eating is the third priority). One reason is it helps protect our brains. Postural stability ideally keeps us upright and prevents us from falling on our heads. Your body focuses on how to keep your head safe! So, when we are stable, it frees up the motor brain power to sit and focus on whatever the task is (i.e., eating or homework; rather than not falling on your head).

Another reason why postural stability is so important is that it supports respiratory function. When our torso is upright, it gives us the best posture to allow for our organs and tissues to achieve full respiratory capacity. It is so much easier for oxygen to reach your body when you are positioned well.

Additionally, when we have postural stability, it provides security within your seating arrangement. It allows for better hand-to-mouth coordination (i.e., bring up your spoon to your mouth to feed yourself or bringing an open cup to your mouth and resting it against your lower lip as your coordinate tilting the cup to drink). Postural stability also supports the fine motor and tactile manipulation of the food (using utensils to eat neatly) or a pencil (using neat handwriting when doing schoolwork). You can demonstrate increased typing skills to do your virtual learning when your body is supported. Your handwriting increases when you are posturally stable. If you want to give it a try, I encourage you to try to write a sentence or two while you are lying down on your bed or sitting on a tall stool without a backrest, while your feet aren’t touching the ground—it isn’t easy!

Postural stability also allows for better oral-motor movements while eating. This includes things like a better range of motion in the jaw for chewing and more precise tongue movements when moving food around your mouth.

How do you know your child may have difficulties with postural stability?

Here are some things you want to look for:

So, how can we help our kids achieve postural stability?

There are a few things that we need to consider:

  1. We recommend designing a seating arrangement that allows for a 90-degree angle at your child’s hips, knees, and ankles when the child is sitting. So, we would want a right angle in all three of those joint areas. That is what your body does when I ask you to “sit up straight.” If you have a child-sized table and chair (that meets the criteria below), that might be an easy option to use for schoolwork. We will want everyone sitting at the family table for meals, however, so we will still need to fix a chair for the child at the table.
  2. It is encouraged to place a “no skid” mat under your child’s rear-end. This helps make a slippery chair not-so-slippery. A piece of shelf liner works really well for this, as it is a little grippy, and it comes in several different textures. You can look for shelf liner on Amazon, or at Target, Walmart, and many other stores.
  3. Your child also needs a footrest. If you have ever sat on a barstool without a footrest, you know how uncomfortable it can be. A footrest better supports your body posture and significantly increases your stability in the chai. In school, your child is probably sitting in child-sized furniture all day. We can’t expect them to sit in a regular dining room chair without foot or back support and expect good postural stability. You might already have a small step stool that is the right height, or you could find an old box that is the right height and fill it with something to make it solid (maybe old textbooks?) and tape it closed. Some families prefer to purchase an adjustable wooden chair, which allows you to adjust the footrest as your child grows, making for easy adjustments for years down the road. Many times, you can find these chairs used for around $50-75 dollars.
  4. The tray/table surface should fall between your child’s belly button and breast level. Any lower or higher will be unpleasant for your child to either eat or work.
  5. Your child should be forward enough that their knees are over the edge of the seat of the chair, while they can still lean against the backrest of the chair. You may need to find a firm pillow or another object to put behind your child’s back to make a backrest.

Take a few minutes, and make some changes to your child’s chair. You will hopefully see quite an improvement!

SOS Chair Recommendations Handout

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