Babies and young children need to move. They need to have the stimulation and opportunities to be as active as possible.
Being active supports the development of core neurological structures in the brain and body. These are needed for balance and coordination. Throughout each day, children need to be able to play and explore. This helps them find out what they can do and allows the practicing and refining of their developing muscles and skills.
Allow children to experience movement
Children need to experience sensory-seeking movement.
Babies enjoy being gently rocked in your arms. They can benefit from lying on their backs and tummies so they can wriggle and roll around and as their muscles develop to crawl and find their balance to take steps and begin to walk.
For infants who are not yet walking, the Department of Health suggests that physical activity could include:
- tummy time (time spent on the stomach, including rolling and playing on the floor)
- reaching for and grasping objects
- pulling, pushing and playing with other people
- parent and baby swim sessions
They recommend reducing time spent in infant carriers or seats, walking aids or baby bouncers and reducing time spent in front of screens.
Pre-school aged children
Growing children enjoy experiencing being able to run and jump, climb, stretch, swing and spin. Everything in their environment, both indoors and outside, invites them to be active.
When children are being physically active, chemicals are released in the brain which enhance a sense of well-being. Children gain confidence and self-esteem as they gain mastery over their bodies and can join in with the things that other children do.
Being physically active, particularly in the outdoors, supports children’s:
- handwriting (as they first develop their large muscles and then their finer muscles and dexterity needed for holding pens)
- emotional development
- physical health
Children who have higher levels of being physically active during childhood are more likely to continue being active in adulthood. They tend to develop fewer chronic health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes than those children who have had a lack of physical activity in their childhood.
For children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided, the Department of Health recommends that they should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
Reduce the time that they spend being sedentary by reducing time spent watching TV, using the computer or playing video games and reducing time spent in a pushchair or car seat.
Health and hygiene
Making sure your child has a healthy diet also supports their physical development. You should follow the advice of your health visitor and other medical professionals regarding your baby and young child’s dietary needs.
It is important that children are offered foods and drinks that provide adequate energy and nutrients for their growing bodies. They should eat a healthy and varied balanced diet containing essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential for growth.
Eating family meals together will encourage your child to enjoy a variety of foods as they will learn by your example.
Sugary drinks and snacks should be avoided. Did you know that tooth decay is one of the main reasons that young children are admitted to hospital every year?
Look after your young child’s oral health. Start by brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as their first milk tooth breaks through, using a children’s toothpaste.
As they get older, supervise your child, making sure that their teeth are brushed at least twice daily, especially before going to bed. Try making tooth brushing fun.
Don’t forget to take your child for regular check ups to the dentist. Start from when their milk teeth appear so that they can get to know the dentist and make sure that you are being positive about the visit so that your child won’t start to worry.
Children’s physical development also includes being able to go to the toilet independently.
Every child is different, and children do not grow and develop at the same rate, so the following is just for guidance.
Usually, children start to show an awareness of what a potty or toilet is used for and an awareness of bladder and bowel urges at 16 to 26 months. They can communicate their need for the potty or toilet by 36 months. Between 30 to 50 months they usually gain more control and can manage their toileting needs most of the time by themselves.
If you have any concerns or would like some support or advice about supporting your child with toileting, you should consult a professional, such as your health visitor, doctor or children’s centre.
What your child can do
0 to 11 months
- give your baby tummy time and let them kick their legs
- place favourite toys on the floor near them to encourage your baby to reach out and touch or grasp it
- never leave your baby unattended
8 to 20 months
As your child develops:
- put favourite toys on the floor out of their reach, to encourage them to crawl or bottom shuffle to get them
- share lift the flaps books together and allow your child to lift the flap to see what is hiding underneath
- make some play-dough and encourage your child to squeeze or squash it with their hands
- let your child help to feed themselves, using their fingers at first and then progressing to using a spoon
16 to 26 months
- give your child a bag to carry things in when you go shopping
- provide cutters and a rolling pin for your child to use with dough
- support your child to start to manage their own personal care by letting them wash their hands and face by themselves
- help them to make healthy choices, for example by offering a choice between milk or water, or a banana or apple
22 to 36 months
- play outside in the garden or park with your child so they have more room to be active, perhaps by playing ball games
- let your child help you to get lunch ready, for example by cutting bananas or spreading butter - talk to your child about how to use knife safely, why we need to wash our hands, or about the things you are preparing and why they are healthy to eat
- support your child to start getting dressed by themselves, starting by breaking down the task into small manageable steps, for example you start off a zip on a coat and then encourage your child to pull it up
30 to 50 months
- Provide opportunities for your child to crawl and climb and be energetic - help them to notice the effects on their bodies after exercise, such as feeling their chest to feel their heart beating faster
- make sure your child brushes their teeth twice a day under supervision
40 to 60 months
- play games with them like football and basketball as your child develops more control over their body and begins to understand that some games have rules
- dance to favourite music with your child
- acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts to manage their own personal needs