Five Reasons Your Child May Have Poor Balance
1) Poor visual efficiency: This is how your child’s brain interprets information. Visual efficiency does not mean the clarity of our vision, but how our eyes interpret things and move left and right and up and down. It includes how they come together as a team to see one clear image, a concept known as convergence. For balance, convergence is very important.
2) Low core strength: If your child tires easily, fatigues easily and doesn’t like to engage in physical activities, than that might indicate why she has poor balance. Decreased muscle strength can even affect something as simple as her ability to balance and sit in a chair.
3) Poor midline development: The “midline” represents the two sides of the brain and two sides of the body. It runs exactly down the center of the body and children have to be able to operate around that middle. So if your child’s brain doesn’t know where the middle of her body is, it’s really hard for her to coordinate movement around it.
4) Poor tactile awareness: If your child has poor tactile awareness, it means she either feels too much or too little of things in her environment. Both feeling too little and feeling too much can increase difficulty and sensitivity to activities that require balance. For example, if your child feels too much, sitting in a chair may not be comfortable, so she has to constantly adjust and move around for tactile relief and stability. If a child doesn’t feel enough, she will seek additional input to the tactile system so when she is asked to stand in line she may lean against the wall or step really hard when walking.
5) Un-integrated reflex patterns: A reflex is an unconscious response to our environment that we are born with, and there are some we don’t want to have after age two because they will inhibit our ability to interact with our environment and have control over our movement. Let’s use the Babinski reflex as an example of how a reflex, normally not present after age two, can affect balance. The Babinski reflex occurs when, after the sole of the foot has been firmly stroked, the big toe moves toward the top surface of the foot and the other toes fan out. This nerve path starts at our feet and goes all the way up to our cortex and back down our body. When children retain the Babinski reflex too long, it means they don’t have a clear central nervous system and their brain has to work harder on other functions. A child who retains the Babinski reflex will find it uncomfortable to put her feet on the floor and have good balance because her toes and inside of her foot arch will always want to come up off the floor. This is a common and normal reaction for babies before the age of two, but imagine if your feet could not touch the floor without wanting to come up off of it as a child just learning how to play on playgrounds or participate in gym class! The Babinski reflex is just one example of how a retained reflex might be what is inhibiting your child’s balance.
What to do:
Cross Patterning is a great exercise to do with your child at home that works on all the pieces above. Have your child lift one knee at a time and touch knees with opposite hands (i.e. left hand to right knee and right hand to left knee). This can either be done while walking or standing in place. In this exercise, your child must cross her midline, balance on one foot, strengthen her visual system, feel the change of weight from foot to foot and watch her hands with her eyes. Once she finds where her middle is, her body will begin to experience overall motor coordination, which is the combination of bilateral coordination and balance.
Reminder for parents: Balance comes with the ability to stay still in one position (i.e. sitting in a chair or standing up in line) as well as the ability to move smoothly. Therefore, your child’s balance work could be something as simple as standing on two feet and closing her eyes. We have to be able to be still before we can move with balance and finesse!
*In this blog post, female pronouns have been used for the child for consistency purposes only.
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