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Stairway to FUN! (safely)

As a pediatric physical therapist working in an early intervention setting, I spend a good amount of time on the stairs. Steep stairs, wide stairs, narrow stairs, wooden stairs, carpeted stairs, baby gate, no gate, one flight of steps, steps broken into two segments, rail on left, rail on right, no rail at all, no steps at all! I’ve studied construction of steps almost as much as my contractor father. I’ve also learned that parents have as many different views on steps as they do on nutrition and discipline. Some are so fearful of their child falling down steps that they are off limits all together. Others refuse a baby gate reasoning that the steps are there so they need to learn to be safe as soon as possible. And then there is everything in between.

If you are a parent with a child ready to take off (and up and over the horizon) of the steps in your home, we have a few tips to share:

 

  • Allowing your child to learn to crawl up and down the steps is am important pre-curser to walking them. It allows for the cognitive experience of learning the depth of the step, the distance, the texture etc. through exploration of movement and touch.
  • Before you let your child crawl up all the steps, let them practice crawling up and down one small “step” in the middle of the room – diaper boxes and small plastic bins work beautifully.
  • Like stepping, crawling down is typically harder than going up. Moving backwards without relying on your vision to see where you are going is not natural but is the safer option rather than scooting facing forward! Modeling to baby (siblings or yes, you yourself) can help!
  • Children may chose to walk up and down with both hands on the wall or rail (side stepping) or one (forward stepping). One is not better than the other – allow what feels natural to the child.
  • SAFETY is essential. We encourage use of baby gates until your child is proficient and that an adult always stands below the child when practicing.
  • Often times, especially with carpeted steps, the flight of steps appears as one big ramp to children. This may be particularly true if there is any visual challenges with depth perception. Lining the steps with colored masking tape or duct tape and placing a favorite sticker in the middle of each, may help highlight each step as individual and make the task of walking down less scary (and maybe even fun).

Just yesterday I was working with a child who would walk up the steps but not down. Her mother described her as “a mule,” digging her heels in and refusing to walk down no matter what motivators the family tried. Problem is, she is getting too big to carry down the steps. I know she is strong enough to descend a step because she does so with a single step into the home and for fun off an exercise step. So we lined the steps with tape yesterday and placed a snow man sticker on each and she literally walked down on the first try!

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I hope that these few simple tips make stair climbing fun and safe within your daily routines. We devote a generous portion of our gross motor cards (the pretty green ones) in 1-2-3 Just Play With Me to stair walking. If you don’t have a copy, make sure you get yours today! We share detailed milestones in 5 developmental domains with fun, purposeful play suggestions in a simple practical format – perfect for a parent or pediatric professional!

 

Reteaching my brain and listening to my body so I can help my patients do the same: A review of TMR TOTS

“Educating yourself does not mean you were stupid in the first place; it means you were intelligent enough to known there is plenty left  to learn.” -Melanie Joy

babies

 

This weekend I spent about 18 hours on the floor in yoga clothes, on yoga mats, holding and twisting baby dolls with black electrical tape on them, and rolling, rubbing, and positioning other people (some I know, some I didn’t before Saturday). PT’s are weirdly awesome. We learn by doing. By seeing. Be feeling. By proving things to be correct…to be good enough to be worth our time, but more importantly to be worthy of making a difference for our patients.

I have be a long time internet stalker of the TMR Method – more specifically – TMR TOTS (the version for baby lovers like me!). It’s been a course that I have wanted to take for a long time, after hearing rave reviews from other therapists, and after hearing MANY refer to methods taught in this course with a sense of common vocabulary. As a PT I felt I was missing out on the secret and I wanted to see for myself.

A great slide with a great reminder!

A great slide with a great reminder!

Without getting into tremendous detail, these methods beautifully weave neurological principals long proven by science to be true, reinforcing what therapists have seen themselves to be successfully with a concept foreign and new to some (like me): making improvements in function, flexibility, posture, and showing increased range of motion without “stretching.” My brain couldn’t process this at first.

 No pain?

No “work?”

No “hold it 5, 10, 30 seconds?”

No “feel the burn?” 

I mean, they don’t call us PT’s (aka Physical Terrorists) for nothing? I was skeptical, then inquisitive, then curious (in between the 1st and 2nd days of the course, my first and favorite lab partner (my college roomie who came to take the course with me) and I assessed my children, husband, and mother in law – with a burning sense of expectation that it wouldn’t work with at least ONE of them.

Practicng at home. Sorry for the PJs - long day!

Practicng at home. Sorry for the PJs – long day!

They all improved. Every one. My mother in law could come to standing with ease and less pain. My husband and children all have increased hip motions where tight hamstrings have long limited them in various ways. So then I started questioning (long term carry over? children with neurologic tone?). And then I got to see before my own eyes and feel with my own hands one of my current patients be treated by Susan Blum – the gentle, patient, and wise PT – who teaches this career changing course. And I submitted. As I did I actually felt guilty that I didn’t have this knowledge for the past 14 years. This old dog learned a new trick and I can’t wait to practice what I learned this week and see what the results are on my patients!

If you are a therapist, I urge you to check it out. The differences we could all collectively make with this knowledge is pretty mind blowing. I’m eager to learn more and to see what we saw and felt replicated and proven in published studies.

If you are a parent with a child with challenges caused by movement – I urge you to seek out a therapist with the training. I wish every child I ever treated had the opportunity to give it a try.

A main component of TMR is to “go to the easy side,”  and “watch, listen, and feel what the body wants to do.” I sat and processed this a bit…and at a deeper level. When we feed our nervous systems with sensory input that our bodies need, we regulate, and function optionally. When we allow movement in the ways I learned about this weekend, our bodies start to correct themselves.  How many times in my life have I pushed my mind, body, and heart out of what it wanted to do? How about you?

Over worked?

Over scheduled?

Under-exercised?

Over-exercised?

Poor nutrition? and hydration?

Wrong choices for wrong motives?

Neglecting my people for reasons that don’t matter?

Judging myself by unfair standards?

My husband claims I have an “inner hippie,” and maybe he’s right (and maybe it’s laughable – go ahead) but I do think people and experiences come to you or are sent to you as you need them. Tomorrow my daughters return to school and as I’ve shared before, a new school year or more like New Year’s Day for me than the holiday. I love fresh starts and new chances for healthy starts….for chances to listen to what your body, mind, and soul are telling you.

As they go off to school, I will shift into working more and having more time during the day to pour into my “other kids.” Thanks to TMR, I have an incredible new skill set to practice and learn with. I also have a reminder to “go to my easy side” as I tackle the mom role of hectic schedules, a much quicker pace, and on the never ending quest for “balance” (in parenthesis because I don’t think it exists).

I am thankful that my body keeps telling me I have so much left to learn! What is yours telling you?

One of my favorite slides from the course.

One of my favorite slides from the course.