June 25, 2018
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How to help a physically timid child

By Marguerite Kelly, Special to the BDN

Q. Our 3-year-old daughter is tall for her age and is extroverted, happy and confident in many areas but she’s physically timid, relatively inactive, rather weak and she resisted our encouragement to be active until a few months ago.

Before that, she would sit up and roll to her tummy when she wanted to get off of her back and she would climb up the stairs on her hands and feet even though she knew how to walk up the stairs. She also wanted to be pushed on the swings at the park instead of pushing herself and she stopped using the slide, although her dad had patiently and gently taught her how to use it.

Her behavior changed however when she started taking gymnastics but there were few options in our small town so we had to put her into a class for kids between the ages of 3½ and 5. Unfortunately, she was the youngest child in the group and she wasn’t nearly as fit as they were.

She blossomed, however, after her kind teacher suggested that we institute “gymnastics practice” at home and had us teach our child to lift her head and to walk up and down the stairs without holding on to the bannister. Now she uses her body in all kinds of new ways and even climbs the jungle gym at the park if we call it “gymnastics practice.”

My daughter recently developed a fear of the rope that is used at gymnastics, however, and she won’t swing and drop from it any more or go on the swings at the park even though she had always loved them wildly.

Should we drop the gymnastics class until she is the right age for it? Or will dropping it just make her fears grow? I have no faith in my instincts because one of my parents never urged me to do anything scary and the other was sometimes overbearing and mean about my childhood fears. This turned me into the weakest, most timid child at school and it was so hard to recover from it. I don’t want that to happen to my little girl.

A. Keep your daughter in her gymnastics class, at least for now, because the teacher is handling her problem so wisely, but let her drop the moves that bother her; she’s not ready for them. You also should ask your child if she had a fall from the swing or if someone teased her about her fears, just to rule out those possibilities.

She has never been very strong or active, however, and may need a full work-up at a children’s hospital to find out if something is wrong and who can fix it. Different developmental delays have different causes and different treatments too.

If certain activities make your child feel woozy, she may need to have a pediatric ophthalmologist test her depth perception or a developmental optometrist find out if her eye muscles are synchronized.

If her balance is off, however, she probably has sensory processing disorder and will need to be treated by an occupational therapist, rather than a gymnastics teacher. This condition — discovered less than 50 years ago — causes many problems in children but specific exercises — and sometimes a pair of orthotics — usually correct them in a year or so.

An occupational therapist may help your daughter’s balance by having her put a puzzle together while sitting on a swaying platform; do exercises with a large ball or on Reebok’s $19 balancing board or have you roll her up in a rug for a few minutes every day. Or maybe she’ll tell you to have your child go swimming or ride a pony every week, since these activities can help children immensely or have you lay a long 2-inch-by4-inch board on top of a couple of bricks in the hall and tell you to walk on it from time to time. Your daughter will imitate you because that’s what children do, and this will help her balance quite a bit.

You’ll find many more SPD exercises in “Growing an In-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz, M. A., and Joye Newman, M. A. (Perigee; $16) as well as some great advice in the revised edition of “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz (Perigee; $16). Both books tell parents, clearly and firmly, that the better their children move their bodies, the better they will think. This advice is great but it’s hard to sell it at a time when academics are pushed too hard, too soon.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.


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