This week’s blog is a chance to share a few simple but very effective ideas on how to help a baby progress to crawling. For the purpose of this blog, we are not going to get too caught up in the difference between creeping, commando crawling, traditional crawling or any other version of moving on our tummy. The main aim of crawling is to use our arms and legs to be able to move from one area of the room to another and in most cases the exact way a baby does that is not initially worth stressing about.
So a few general words first… have your heard someone say this recently?
“All children develop in their own time"
It is remarkable how often I hear this statement during sessions with parents of young infants. On the surface this statement seems entirely fair. It recognises the variability in development. It provides reassurance that making comparisons to another baby’s progress isn’t the thing that determines your success as a parent (or your baby's success as a baby). Unfortunately though, there can often be a certain amount of dissatisfaction that comes with this statement. It can sometimes seem a little dismissive of any concerns that a parent does hold. Often what parents actually say is more along the lines of “I know all children develop in their own time and stuff… but I am still worried.”
As well as potentially devaluing a parents concerns, the other big downside of this statement is that it seems to insinuate that development is a passive process. As if development is a thing that we just need to get out of the way and let happen. Unfortunately this is almost the opposite of the truth. Development is not a pre-determined or pre-programmed process. Development is actually the result of both our genetics and all of our different experiences and the skills we learn from those experiences. So yes it is very, very variable in its nature and as a result comparing one child directly to another is very rarely helpful, but each and every child needs help and support to develop to the best of their ability.
Why even help?
Learning how to better help your baby learn new skills is an extremely valuable exercise. Babies learn to move for a much better reason than just because they can. They learn to move as it is necessary for them to do so to better play in and explore their environment. When a baby reaches out for a toy, grabs it, then falls over… to them that is a success. We might see the fall as a problem, but to the baby, as long as they get that toy they have won. Once we learn to think like a baby rather than an adult, being able to help a baby can sometimes be much easier!
We know that teaching parents how to better respond to their babies cues and facilitate movement from as young as 4 or 8 weeks can help accelerate their movement development (1.2.). So perhaps instead of being viewed as pushy parenting, helping your child to learn a new skill should be viewed as empowering. It is the way you help that determines how positive an experience this is.
So here are 3 simple things to practice to help your baby learn the skills to crawl:
1. Tummy Play.
Many people instantly respond with dislike to the term ’tummy time’ but it is very important. To simplify this concept and to help your baby master this tricky position consider the following four points:
- Recognise that Tummy Time is hard work.
- Short Bursts, Very Often!
- Build it into your routine.
- Modify it!
I have previously talked in more detail about tummy time so if you would like more detail, check out our ’Tummy Time: Ever wondered why all the fuss?' article from earlier this year.
2. Practice Reaching.
Once a baby has the ability to overcome gravity while on their tummy and hold their head up and prop on their elbows… the next challenge is working out how to get those arms moving! As I indicated above, babies are very target focussed beings. They are learning about the basics of their own body as well as their environment and as such tend to have a strong interest in exploring and interacting with the things around them (adults, toys, pets, the floor, crumbs, Dad’s chest hair…). Reaching and grasping is a complex skill and needs practice. Don’t expect your baby to be able to move their arm, orientate their hand, and then correctly grasp a plush toy for quite a while. Instead look for toys that are very easy to grab (even ones your baby with accidentally grab if they get their hand close enough!). Good examples of objects for this purpose are a group of basic plastic interlocking rings, ‘spider-web balls’, hair, key rings, ribbons and the like (obviously being careful to avoid objects that are choke hazards!)
Got it... Reaching is good... What does that have to do with crawling?
It is very hard to reach for an object if you are still leaning on that arm! So the first step (and the reason why learning to reach is so vital as a foundation skill for crawling) is for a baby to learn to lean away from the arm they what to reach with. This creates a scenario where the baby has a propping arm and a reaching arm. This ability to shift your weight to one side of our body (and stabilise enough to reach) is the first sign of the reciprocal patterning (left, right, left) required for crawling!
Once a baby starts to master this skill they might reach a stage where they are able to ‘pivot’ around on their tummy, moving around in circles on the spot to reach and interact with toys. This is a great sign that your baby should soon develop the skills to move forward in a creep!
3. Get Out of Sitting!
The final skill in our 3 things to help a baby learn to crawl topic is slightly from left field. Around the same time as babies are learning to move across the ground, they are also mastering the ability to sit. Sitting independently would normally develop before crawling, but the ability to get into sitting without an adults help is a trickier skill and often is not mastered until the child is a bit older.
Rather than focussing on getting into the sitting position however, we should first be helping our babies learn to get out of this position! It can be very difficult when we have just been practicing learning to sit for longer and longer periods to change our mindset to one of needing to help our baby get out of this position! This change is important though.
The advantage gained from being able to sit is that your baby can easily use both hands and look around their environment at the same time. Conversely being able to sit for a very long period of time in one spot is not much of an advantage to babies. If fact once a child has learn to sit, crawl and get between these positions, they rarely will spend much time at all in a static sitting position. Instead they will rapidly change between sitting, crawling, rolling, kneeling and lying as they systematically explore and destroy anything they can get their hands on!
Sitting is good... only being about to sit is not!
So even though your baby has achieved the wonderful and difficult skill of learning to sit, it is exactly the time to start practicing getting out of the position. This task is often not a graceful one, with much head banging and face planting in the early stages! The trick is just to get it done. Help your baby just as much as they need to be able to get onto their tummy. This is going to be quite a lot at first and then eventually not much at all. When you see that your baby is interested in an object that is out of their reach while sitting, help them lean forwards (45˚ to either side is ideal), get onto their tummy and celebrate with them as they get that object!
This stage can be very tricky if:
- your baby is very talented at convincing someone to push that toy a little closer (they might be very good at using their developing voices to let us know what they want!), or/and
- if tummy time is still very hard work (the reward of getting the toy is then clouded by the difficulty of having to be on their tummy to play with it!).
The best solution here is likely to be to go back to focussing on the first 2 points to help your baby learn the foundation skills they aren't so good at.
So to better help your baby learn to crawl...
First practice tummy play! To build strength and overcome gravity.
Help them learn to reach so they also learn to shift their weight from one arm to the other.
Don’t let your baby get stuck in sitting. After all, the aim is to move better, not to stay still better!
As always… if you are worried about your babies development, please see your appropriate local health professional. For babies with specific conditions, syndromes or injuries, we often need to alter and customise the way we help that baby learn to move. The basic principles though are normally very similar.
I know that the points raised in this article are not revolutionary or brand new. Perhaps though being able to simplify and understand how these basic strategies can provide your child the foundational skills for crawling will also help you feel empowered to assist your baby!
B.Phty (Hons), G.D. Paed. Neuro. Rehab.
Tim has 8 years of Physiotherapy experience and is an expert in Paediatric (Baby’s and Children’s) Physiotherapy. Tim’s the person to see if you have any concerns about your baby or child’s movement skills or development.
Tim is co-owner and director of The Movement Team. Tim also holds an Advanced Physiotherapist position within a Child Development Service in the public health sector.
Tim has worked across the breadth of paediatric health (acute hospital, disability care, developmental, community and private clinics) and has completed numerous national and internationally recognised education courses in topics including developmental orthopaedics, high risk infant management, respiratory functioning and infant movement.
Tim's formal training consists of:
Bachelor Physiotherapy (Hons) - University of Queensland
Graduate Diploma Paediatric Neurological Rehabilitation - University of Western Australia
Tim additionally holds the following positions and memberships:
Chairperson of the Queensland Paediatric Physiotherapy Clinical Network 2013 - present
National Paediatric Group Member - Australian Physiotherapy Association
The clinical information included in this article is of a general nature and might not apply to every family. Please see your local health professional for individualised developmental advice.