The Psychology of Sitting, Part 2: Why do we sit our babies?

To continue our curiosities about psychology that gets set up in the first year alongside movement, first some pondering…

If what I have been encouraging in my last posts really is true, then why is its opposite such a cultural norm? I think it is a matter of particular cultural mindsets, how we were brought up ourselves, and parents not having the information they need in the face of cultural norms.

Why do we sit our babies?

Only one of these is propped up–and it’s not the baby!

Parents often receive advice to sit their babies from health professionals and reading materials. What is this need to have our babies accomplish a milestone before they find it themselves? We are a society of achievement. We assume it means that Baby is smart, or breathe a sigh of relief that Baby is “okay.” We want to foster independence here in these great United States (and perhaps in other cultures). We assume that we need to teach them how to sit and walk, and take pride in doing so. We lovingly want them to be a part of our world and bring them up to our level. And they “like it,” right? Do we also like being depended upon? Do we need our babies to need us?

The thing is, sitting and walking babies before they can do so themselves promotes the very things we wish to avoid: dependence, distrust of oneself, compulsive behaviors of pleasing others, compensation patterns in the body, learning difficulties, and taking longer to achieve integrated milestones rather than shorter.

I encourage you to “let your hair down” while hangin’ with the Babe! We must bring ourselves down to Baby’s level. In order to foster a foundation for a child’s fullest potential to emerge and be explored, we must create environments that support them in finding the milestones for themselves without rush. Taking more time in the first year to build up each stepping-stone of movement, as well as holding them as much as possible, accepting crying, and spending quality time with them, is what will grow independent, confident, centered, and compassionate individuals.

A family’s story

“We learned our lesson,” a mom said to me. Their daughter hadn’t rolled, sat, or belly-crawled by 8 months due to various difficulties, but in the meantime they had been directed to sit her. Because Baby learned to compensate in sitting before going through the milestones that would prepare her to get in and out of it, she developed her own way of getting into sitting. However, she could not get down again in this way. Mom told me of how Baby would wake up at night, maneuver into sitting and get stuck, and then cry until someone came to rescue her. A sleepy Mom or Dad would lie her back down and go back to bed, only for Baby (and sleepy parents) to repeat the pattern over and over again always dependent on help.

How to Support Your Baby

Babies explore sitting in a wide range of timing, mixed among different milestones.

Rather than rescuing Baby and sitting or propping him to make him happy, be prepared for frustration—it is a normal and healthy part of development. But of course listen for anger, a need to release emotion through crying, or signs of “I’ve had enough!” The aim is to support, not force.

If your baby is not yet sitting, go ahead and lie on the floor with him. That is to say—come down to his level. If you’d like to encourage, but not push him, help him lie and play on his side. Interact with him and hand him toys from all levels and angles. As he learns to push backward, in circles, and forward on his belly, he’ll be able to come incrementally higher in side play . . . and, one day, to sitting.

If your baby has been sat and can’t yet get in and out of it by herself, see how tolerant she is of lying on her back, tummy, and side. Sometimes the frustration of not being up higher is what will trigger the problem-solving process of figuring out how to sit. From her tummy, she’ll learn to crawl. If she’s not tolerant of lying down, play together with her on your body—rolling together, sidelying and coming to sitting together, and playing in all dimensions, with you being a “human jungle gym” so she can practice coming off center.

Note: if your baby hasn’t discovered milestones in a timing that makes sense to you, and/or if you have a gut feeling of questioning something your baby is or is not doing, please consider seeking professional help.

© Eliza Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved

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


2 responses to “The Psychology of Sitting, Part 2: Why do we sit our babies?

  1. So true and wonderfully written Elizabeth! Often parents and therapists can be in such a hurry to get a child to the milestone they believe they should be at without taking time for creating an environment for the child to find her way. I love how you express that so gracefully here and offer ways to explore with and support the child.

    I especially like the bit:
    “In order to foster a foundation for a child’s fullest potential to emerge and be explored, we must create environments that support them in finding the milestones for themselves without rush.”

    • There are so many factors to milestone readiness other than body positioning–learning, psychology, emotions, and the brain’s readiness for sensory intake and perceiving the world at a higher level. I see that these other elements often get bypassed for the sake of getting the movement/position. Making the environment appropriate is one way to support them in finding milestones on their own, not rushed!

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