“Attention, Balance and Coordination are the primary A, B and C upon which all later academic learning depends.” — Sally Goddard, author of Learning, Reflexes and Behavior.
Does your child have the physical ability to begin reading, writing, sitting still and listening, enunciating words or getting along well with others?
Every human being goes through the same developmental stages at predictable timelines, from conception through walking, provided they are nurtured, given healthy nutrition and freedom to move.
I, and others in my field, believe that many children are being asked to perform learning skills like reading, writing and sitting still, long before they have completed the physical development necessary for these skills. For example, for most children, the eyes are not ready to read close up until 6 or 7 years old, which is when “foveal focus” matures.
I have created this page to help you advocate for your child’s optimal learning development and show you how to assist your children and young adults when they are having challenges at school and in relationships.
The Physical Foundation for Learning
The connections of cells in the brain (neural nets) that ensure children are prepared to be successful in school begin their development when the fetus is in his/her mother’s womb. They continue expanding throughout life. However, the greatest growth in neural networks is occurring in the first 5 to 7 years of life. They:* enable the eyes to work together for reading,
* the thumbs and fingers to cooperate for writing,
* the ears to work together for screening out background noises for focusing in group settings
* the body to be comfortable while sitting still, listening or focusing on a task
* the tongue to function effectively for speaking
* the sensory nerves in muscles (known as proprioceptors) to create balance, coordination, spatial awareness and ability to control behavior.
During pregnancy and in the first months after birth, reflexes in the brain stem are actively growing the brain and body of the child. When their job is complete, the reflexes are said to “mature” or “inhibit”, allowing conscious thought and choice functions of the neocortex to initiate movement. Yet, these reflexes remain available and will initiate action when there is true danger.
I highlight below four key reflexes that affect a child’s and young adult’s ability to be successful in school: Moro, Fear-Paralysis, Asymmetrical Tonic Neck, and Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflexes. (They can also contribute to challenges that adults encounter in their ability to be successful at work and in relationships.)
Moro and Fear-Paralysis Reflexes
The Moro Reflex and Fear-Paralysis Reflexes are active when the baby is in its mother’s womb. The Moro is thought to be the maturation of the Fear-Paralysis Reflex, which is the reflex to freeze, withdraw or shut down the body functions when under extreme stress.
After birth, the Moro reflex, also known as the fight/flight reflex, alerts a parent when their infant is startled by a loud noise, is hungry, is struggling with movement or needs changing.
Finding the mother’s nipple and making eye contact with her at birth and meeting the baby’s needs when it cries are bonding activities that helps to mature these survival reflexes. Making eye contact with the mother at birth is also one of the developmental moments that enable the child to use both eyes together in the future for reading.
Children who have balance, mood swings, bed wetting problems, tense muscle tone, low self-esteem, anxiety or related issues may have retained one or both of these reflexes beyond the time they should have been inhibited.
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
The ATNR, which is nicely visible in this photo of the infant being weighed (arm and leg straighten to the side to which the head is turned while they bend on the opposite side), causes the kick that we can feel when we put our hand on his/her mothers belly. It helps the baby develop muscle tone, come through the birth canal and to become aware of itself and its surroundings after birth.
By six months of age, it should inhibit allowing the next stages of development to unfold. Challenges with writing, balance and coordination suggest the possibility that this reflex has not matured.
Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR)
The STNR gets activated after the child has spent supervised time playing on its belly. Eventually, wiggling around, looking about and belly crawling will activate the arms to straighten and the knees to bend. With an amazed look, the child will find him/herself in a position like a dog, wobbling back and forth a bit at first, then moving backward, sitting and crawling on all fours.
Young adults who sit with their arms crossed or bent holding cellular devices while their legs remain straight, or sitting with knees bent but laying on their desk while writing with a straight arm, may be compensating for lack of maturity of the STNR. Children who sit on the floor with legs in a “W”-like position or who are messy eaters may have not experienced maturity of the STNR. Reading, attention, writing, listening and ability to stop and think before acting are all influenced by development and maturation of the STNR.
Mind-Body Coaching® has unique approaches to resolving issues related to incomplete maturity of developmental reflexes that effectively compliment the more traditional sensory integration or psychological approaches to inhibiting reflexes later in life.
Balancing Parents Helps Children and Young People
Children and Young People are part of a family system. When they have challenges, other parts of the family system are invited to learn how to be better communicators, more patient and/or assertive.
Before the age of 2, children are intimately connected to their parents. After age 2 they begin to explore the world around them and who they are as separate human beings from their parents, keeping the parent(s) within view. Thereafter they become more and more independent. Especially under the age of 3, emotional outbursts by children may be happening because one or both parents may be out of touch with or not expressing their own. When I balance a parent for their life challenges, whatever the presenting issue was with the child many times reduces or goes away without needing to do a session with the child.
If the child does have some developmental issues, they are more easily overcome when the parents let go of guilt and other frustrations related to having a child with special needs. Parents are also much more effective helping their children do neuro-developmental activities (what I refer to as “homeplay”) after a parent receives a Mind-Body Coaching® balance focused on helping their child complete his/her development. Additionally, children have an easier time learning and correctly doing their “homeplay” activities after a Mind-Body Coaching® balance, many times reducing the timeline recommended by other developmental approaches.
Tweens and Teens
I work with young adults in a similar way as I do adults, albeit a bit more playfully. I have found that, when parents get balanced, their tweens and teens are more willing to address their own issues and cooperate in a Mind-Body Coaching® balance.
Young people appreciate the Mind-Body Coaching® balance process because it helps them understand how to optimize their brain function for learning and to connect with their unique gifts and talents. It also empowers them with activities that enable them to feel more in charge of their life and able to help themselves.
Contact me for a free 30 minute consult to see if this might be the missing piece for you and your child.