Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why Your Toddler Thinks About Her Body Much Differently Than You Do



It was Mother's Day and I was getting a massage — my first shiatsu massage. I still have no idea what the shiatsu technique is all about, but in talking to the masseuse she used the term "core awareness" and it stuck in my head as a sort of meditative chant for the rest of the session.

Core awareness. Core awareness. Core awareness. 

As adults, we think primarily of our extremities. We think of walking as "putting one foot in front of the other." Or we think of doing the dishes as something that is done with our hands and fingers. Or we think of talking as something that is done with our mouths. The reality is that our entire bodies are involved in each of these activities, most importantly our core — the spine that allows us to balance, bend, reach and gesticulate.

One thing I love about Malachi's form of therapy, ABM, is that it made me see for the first time how much our bodies are a part of our whole being. For most of my life, my body has seemed little more than a means of conveyance for my eyes and my fingers. I very rarely gave a thought to my posture and never to my "muscle tone" — a huge buzzword in the special needs community.

But muscle tone is visibly different in different types of people. Actors use this reality all the time to portray different types of people — from the rigid drill sergeant to the fluid dancer. How our brains have organized our bodies has a very real effect on the person we are because — as may come as much of a surprise to you as it was to me — we are our bodies. Your body is a physical manifestation of the YOU inside your head and has as much to do with your personality as your thoughts and dreams.

Core awareness. Core awareness. Core awareness. 

This tendency of adults to think of our extremities is reflected in all sorts of ways in how we talk to our children and what we give them words for. I've read probably a dozen baby books about the human body and only one of them mentions the back once. The pelvis, the spine, the neck, the sternum, the ribs and the abdomen are — just percentage-wise — a massive part of the human body and particularly the disproportioned body of a child. The vast majority of children, typically developing or not, master their spines long before they figure out their fingers. Yet, we have songs about ten little piggies and pat-a-cake and even "Dem Bones" that skip entirely over our core despite the vast number of powerful muscles and vital skeletal structures there.

Core awareness. Core awareness. Core awareness. 

It may sound like I am condemning adults for thinking this way. I am not. Expansion and contraction is a pattern repeated everywhere in nature, from the build up and erosion of mountains to the growth and decay of a cell. It is natural for adults, who are at the peak of their expansion, to focus on the very limits of their being.

However, this is not the child's perspective. I have spent hours watching both my children experiment with wiggles of their pelvises or twisting of their torsos. Rolling around on the floor with them, I have rediscovered the physical experience of childhood — banging on the floor with our powerful back and thigh muscles, the feet a mere afterthought, or arching our backs so that our heads pop up, the hands against the floor steadying us rather than providing the bulk of our support.

The child who walks with a big, soft tummy and wide legs is much more aware of her core and its ability to propel her through space than the adult with a rigid spine and an aching lumbar. We could take a lesson from her, rather than the other way around.


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