The Psychology of Sitting, Part 1

We have been investigating how babies learn to sit and what it means when we sit them before they can get in and out of it themselves. Let’s delve further . . .

Consider what it means emotionally and psychologically—let’s put ourselves “in Baby’s booties,” so to speak.

Imagine, as an adult, that you are put into a position you cannot get into or out of yourself. Perhaps someone has perched you precariously on a high tree limb hanging upside down by your knees—or some such oddity. How do you feel? You might find out that the world looks fun from this perspective; but how are you going to get down? And how will you get back here, if you’re enjoying it…?

We won’t be hanging our babies from trees; but what’s new is what’s new to our nervous systems.  For a baby, here are a couple of possible scenarios, again putting ourselves in Baby’s place:

#1: You are born with your own instincts and you innately trust your parents—these are biological facts of survival. Imagine that your body says internally “lie down and roll,” for that is what you would do if left to your own devices; but your parents say “sit up.” You are in love with your parents and it’s fun to be up higher because you can see what they’re doing. But since you can’t get into it by yourself, you must somehow communicate (possibly by fussing or crying) each time you want up. And when you’re up—it’s fun and stimulating! Yet it’s also scary because you keep falling over—sometimes whole-body falls, sometimes miniscule, imperceptible falls (yes, even when you’re propped). Your protective reflexes do their job; however, calling on them constantly (which you must do since you don’t yet have the necessary core strength) puts you into a subtle state of continuous shock. Nevertheless, you are programmed to adapt, so without conscious choice you find ways to stay there as best you can. Eventually you forget that your initial urge was to lie down and roll. It’s fun to be up high. Except when it’s scary. But the stimulation makes you smile and laugh, so your parents think it’s fun. You eventually want to move and get closer to mama; since you have no options for getting into or out of sitting, you begin scooting on your bottom, and you skip crawling all together.

#2: Imagine you are lying on the floor and you can roll. You can play on your back and on your tummy. As you wriggle and play, you feel your limbs pushing into the ground. You discover you can use this pushing to move around. You wanted to get a toy or get closer to mama, so you learned to push up on your hands, swivel on your belly, and belly-crawl. You can even play while lying on your side. Being down here is a little frustrating, though, because mama is up higher and she moves faster. But, it’s Mama! You are motivated to somehow find your way up to her. You have now figured out how to support yourself on your side with one elbow—using that great push you can do on the floor and getting a little higher off the ground. One day you get excited and your hand pushes into the ground while on your side. Mama has brought your favorite toy, so you reach for it and oh my! You are higher than you have ever been—you are sitting! You don’t know the fancy name for it, but you have an amazing feeling of empowerment, joy, and “I can do it myself!” Since you found this action on your own, you unconsciously “laid the track” in your neuro-muscular system for the pathway to sitting; so you’ll be finding your way back down again soon too.

Coming to sitting all by herself . . . by pushing up from her side. Notice the involvement of her hands, feet, head, and even tail.

What does this mean?

I realize that parents are encouraged by professionals to prop-sit their babies. But we must look this issue in the face with the intention of love and optimal whole-being health. Putting children into positions they cannot get into themselves during playtime promotes dependence, not independence. In asking them to do something they’re not ready to do, we communicate that it’s not ok for them to be who they are, where they are, or explore on their own timing. Alternatively, allowing babies to discover milestones by themselves and providing support when necessary (but not pushing) promotes independence and empowerment. This is the basis of life-long learning: the habits that get set up through the allowing (or not) of Baby’s own timing and discovery, according to when his body is ready.

Stay tuned for The Psychology of Sitting, Part 2.

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved

(Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

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6 responses to “The Psychology of Sitting, Part 1

  1. This is the best explanation of why to do it that way. I can see the infants thinking this and even feel for myself how that must feel with those steps.

    Well I need to get back to figuring how I was hanging by my knees.from that branch 🙂

  2. That’s the key, I think: really bringing ourselves to their level/world, rather than trying to bring them up to ours; really feeling how it would feel to them.

  3. Great Blog! Pondering under-sitting… 🙂 Thanks Eliza!

  4. Thanks! Nice, love the undersitting! perhaps then someday we will also understand!

  5. Fantastic Eliza. I love the synthesis of so many layers of human development and needs here. Thanks.

  6. It’s so true, Angela–hopefully as a human race we can keep synthesizing ourselves back together… 🙂

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