The best lessons are learnt in retrospect, especially when the consequences are painful! Maintaining a perfect posture is one of those lessons driven home soundly, albeit a little late, by the neck and shoulder spasms we suffer in adulthood.
If you count back to the number of times your parents asked you to sit up straight and not slouch, you may not be too far from the number of times you have nagged your child about the same thing.
Clearly repetition does not work. Posture is as much a learned behaviour as a natural reflex action and the earlier learned, the better it is. Awareness of the importance of posture and creating an environment where it comes automatically should work more effectively in encouraging your child to maintain good posture.
It may be a challenge, but will pay big dividends in the long run. Good posture can not only help your child appear more confident, comfortable and alert, but can help prevent fatigue, neck, shoulder and back troubles and even abnormal bone growth.
What is bad posture?
Dr DM Manoj, Team Leader Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation, Artemis Health Institute explains, "The base of the body, the spine is somewhat S shaped with three natural curves--cervical, thoracic and lumbar. When the angles of these three curves are more or less than normal, the spine is not supported properly and muscles and ligaments supporting it get over stressed. That is called incorrect posture".
The position in which you hold your body and limbs when standing, sitting or lying down will obviously be different for each function, but the objective is to hold yourself in a way that puts the least strain on your back.
"To have good posture, you need strength of muscles and that comes from an active healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise like running, walking, cycling and playing different sports will help to keep your back strong", adds Dr Manoj.
"If the spine is strong, it can compensate for lapsing into an incorrect posture from time to time. Children who are physically active, stretching and exercising their muscles uniformly, don't usually have to be corrected for their posture as a straight carriage comes spontaneously. This will not happen with a child who spends more time indoors, perhaps bent over a computer or video game or sitting in one position for a long time watching TV, tensing the neck muscles in excitement without even realising it."
What can parents do?
Parents of babies and toddlers are certainly more tuned into how to strengthen the child's bone and muscle structure than parents of older children. Baby books and other literature give us critical suggestions such as not rushing a baby from one stage of movement to another, allowing them to build muscle coordination and bone strength by a steady progression. But as kids grow, sometimes the most basic points get overlooked. Here's a simple checklist of what parents can do to encourage good posture.
Check your child's furniture to make sure it is at correct levels, starting from the baby chair or high chair stage. A desk or table should be at the level of children's elbows, so they can sit upright with arms relaxed. Similarly, furniture in school should also be correctly designed and parents should bring it to the attention of the school auhtorities, if it is found lacking.
An effective technique to correct postural problems is to secure paper the child is writing on, taping it to the desk so that it is directly in front of him, angled slightly for comfort and does not move around while he works on it.
A footrest is a must while sitting. The muscles in the spine that hold your child upright are triggered by sensors in the feet; providing contact for his feet will cue him to sit properly.
Don't let children 'grow into chairs.' Using a chair that is too big can be worse than one that is too small. If the seat is too long their calves will press against the seat front. This restricts circulation and levers the small of the back away from the back of the chair. It also prevents them from moving their legs and keeps them uncomfortable.
Sit up straight yourself and make sure you tell your child about how much better it makes you feel. Like with everything else, children don't always listen to you, but they are always watching you.
Keep discussions on posture casual so that your child does not tune out yet another lecture. In fact maybe you can make a game out of it, exaggerating as you demonstrate slouches and slumps. Challenge your child to catch you in a bad posture and vice versa.
Relax, take breaks and move,especially while studying for long hours, watching TV or working at the computer. Remind children to take frequent breaks for physical activity.
Brief walks and stretches are a good option after 20 minutes of sitting still."When children are exhausted or stressed, such as when exams are on, they get tired and tend to slouch into incorrect positions. That is not the time to correct their posture, the treatment required instead is to teach them how to relax," says Dr Manoj.
Cut down on screen time and encourage your child to stay physically active and engaged in athletic activities. An activity like cycling, swimming, football or basketball - whatever their interest, will also benefit the child in more ways than just strengthening posture.
Balance the bag, making sure children don'tcarry a heavy weight on any one side. Firstly, a school bag should not be too heavy - the thumb rule is that a bag should weigh no more than 10% of the child's body weight. A backpack with two broad, padded shoulder strapsand a waist strap is better than a sling bag, especially for lengthy journeys.
Although trendy and attractive, many of the current bags children are using for school don't allow foreven weight distribution across the back. Kids should also be encouraged to wear the backpack no lower than the hollow the lower back.
Go barefoot in the grass, wherever it is safe. Experts agree that going barefoot provides increased sensory information from your child's feet to the rest of his body, and can improve postural and walking skills.
Visualise straight posture:
Most children will relate to the image of a balloon or rope tied to the top centre of their heads and holding them up straight. Or have your child lie stomach down on the floor and pretend he is Superman flying through the sky. Have him bring his shoulder blades together and place his arms out front just like his fave superhero!
Lift correctly and carefully: This applies to both children and adults. Never try lifting anything that is more than a quarter of your body weight. Ease up your back muscles by bending your knees and straightening your legs as you lift up. The weight will be borne by your leg muscles this way. Never try lifting anything above your waist.
"Most commonly, you will find children with their neck forward and shoulders slouched. Or sometimes their tummies are out, increasing the arch of the back. Normally these postures correct themselves out as the child grows and the back strengthens. But if bad posture persists, you may need the help of a physiotherapist to correct the problem, says Dr Manoj.
With a little help, your children will learn how to carry themselves well, not only lookingtheir best but feeling a whole lot better too.