From the day your child was born you've probably been reading all the child development books and talking to friends who have had children. Perhaps you've even fallen into the trap of comparing your baby to someone's else's and discovered that he isn't as far progressed. This is a natural, albeit nerve wracking, part of parenthood; but it's important to understand that no two babies are the same. Each child is an individual who will reach his own milestones in his own time. If you are concerned, or just want to further your child's progress in less time; there are a few things you can do to encourage muscle strength and development throughout his first year and beyond. The following five steps will get you started:
1. Young infants need plenty of supervised tummy time in order to help with neck, back, and arm strength. This can be done using a specialized pillow, wedge, or soft blanket. As your child grows, begin holding toys out in front of him to encourage him to look, reach, and follow it when his eyes. These techniques are essential in strengthening the muscles that will later be used for sitting up, crawling, and then walking.
2. Hold onto your baby's hands and hold him upright to encourage him to put weight on his legs and feet. This not only helps baby develop lower torso and leg strength, but gives him a chance to face and interact with you.
3. As baby learns to move on his own, he will start to explore the world around him. Give him a safe place to climb and play with an indoor play area. There are large playgrounds with multiple climbing units made of soft foam; as well as small foam shapes used for propping and climbing. Both are good options for helping children develop stronger muscles and in helping them learn to balance, jump, and perceive the distance between two objects. One of our favorites is the Jose's Jamarama Indoor Playground.
4. Keep plenty of stimulating toys around your child, with some of them in hard to reach areas. This will force kids to stretch, crawl, climb, and bend to reach them. Just make sure you don't have them on shelves that are high off the ground where your baby or toddler could be hurt; put them just high enough to get baby stretching those legs!
5. Get down and play with your child. There is nothing baby loves more than floor time with mom or dad, so get down there and tickle, wrestle, chase, and roll. He will enjoy trying to copy your moves, which will not only provide endless entertainment for you both; it will also help him learn to use varying muscle groups and fine tune fine motor skills.