Sitting tolerance is a thing. Some children have it, others struggle. So what can you do to help develop sitting tolerance in the children you care for?
So What Are Activities That Improve Sitting Behavior? Several activities improve sitting behavior such as board games, rocking, yoga poses and sitting on a ball. Choosing the right activity depends on the contributing factor to poor sitting which could be attention span, vestibular function, sensory issues and/or core muscle strength.
Sensory Issues – Starting at the Beginning
Poor sitting behavior in children can stem from several things, one of them being sensory issues. Young children are sensory creatures and interpret the world using all of their senses. These are the building blocks for all other learning, including higher brain function.
As you can see, the senses (and we have more than you probably realize) are the building blocks of everything else. The balance, core muscle strength and focus needed for prolonged sitting are higher level functions, so if there are sensory compromises, there will be challenges.
Before anything happens, children with sensory issues need to be as calm as possible. They are already working with a deficit, and are either sensory seeking or on sensory overload. If you want a child to sit with sensory issues, they need to calm the system first. Doing calm activities, singing songs, listening to music etc provides a way for the sensory system to calm itself and be ready for the challenge of sitting still.
Vestibular Input – The Basis of Balance
One of the most important senses is vestibular. It is the first system that all sensory input hits and it is the commander and chief that decides where it goes after that. If vestibular dysfunction exists, then sitting still is going to be a huge challenge. Balance relies on vestibular input not only from the muscles but from the visual and auditory systems. Sitting still takes the highest form of balance – much more than moving. While it seems the opposite, the brain and vestibular systems are working harder than ever to make sitting or standing still possible.
Children who wiggle and jiggle and just can’t sit still and who may have an immature vestibular system will benefit from activities that engage the vestibular system.
These activities might include:
- Rocking – While you might not see the correlation between rocking and sitting still, rocking is a great activity for stimulating the vestibular system. There are 3 semicircular canals in the vestibular system and if you rock 3 ways, you can stimulate each one. Forwards and back, side to side and in a circular motion. In a seated position, this allows the child to balance more easily, strengthens the vestibular system and allows a greater chance at success for sitting still. If you have a child who is struggling with prolonged sitting times, have breaks with movement or rocking in between.
- Sitting on a Ball – Sitting on the ground doesn’t allow for much vestibular input. The ground is solid, immoveable, and as we said before, sitting still requires the highest form of balance. When sitting on a ball, the object beneath is not completely still. It moves and with each movement the child’s vestibular system is engaged. This makes it easier for them to sit without being as distracted because the slight movement of staying upright on the ball makes it easier to balance and stay in one place.
- Sitting and Drawing Large Rainbows – This is a great activity for those who struggle with sitting behaviors. Sitting on the ground and having a large piece of paper on the wall, the child makes rainbows by drawing sweeping motions in an arch from one side to the other. Use different colours to engage the visual sense as well. The sweeping from side to side provides a vestibular action that strengths vestibular function and balance and engages core muscles which can be another issue.
- Sitting on a Wedge – Providing a wedge gives a different sort of vestibular input. If you are worried about the child sitting on a ball and wiggling around, put them on a foam wedge instead. The gradient engages the vestibular senses, providing the necessary input and challenges to aid in balance, making sitting still easier.
How Long Can They Sit?
Sequencing is a huge part of focussing. Focussing is needed for sitting tolerance. These, concentration and attention span are all things needed for sitting still. A child may have good vestibular function but struggle with sitting for periods of time because of a poor ability to concentrate. These are specific activities you can do to help these areas:
- Board Games – These require attention span, concentration and assist to develop postive sitting behaviors. While there is some movement required in moving objects on a board, the majority of the time is spent sitting still and concentrating on the game until their turn comes around. Some board games take longer than others, so initially, choose something that is short lived and they can accomplish quickly. Then slowly extend the time with more complicated games.
- Craft Activities – Something they are interested in requires attention to detail in addition to other fine motor skills. Craft is a great way to encourage sitting tolerance and concentration. It also addresses sequencing, with having to create a plan, work out how to implement that plan and then create the craft. The more practise they have, the better the sequencing and concentration skills become.
- Pick and Fill – Sit at a table with water beads in a container. Have the child pick marbles one by one and fill a 2 liter bottle. Because the water beads just fit in the mouth of the bottle it takes time, fine motor control and concentration to make it work. Children love this activity which also provides tactile stimulation with the structure of the water bead. Brightly coloured and squishy, kids love filling the bottle and watching them drop through the neck hole.
- Extended Exhale Activities – Children who have more difficult attending and focussing often breathe more inefficiently or in a shallow way. Activities that require more extended exhale of breath and improve respiratory function include bubbles, kazoos, recorders and Blo-Pens. By using controlled breath with deeper, longer respiratory function, children develop better concentration and control. This also helps with the control needed for positive sitting behaviors.
Core Muscle Strength
Another issue that can cause issues with sitting tolerance is lack of strength in core muscles. As the torso is needed to support the head and upper body, children with poor muscle strength will struggle with sitting. Here are some activities that can help with core muscle strength:
- Wheelbarrow Walks – Popular amongst children where one child is on the ground on all fours and another child picks them up by the feet and they move around the room with the child on the floor supporting themselves on their arms. This forces the core muscles to engage and strengthen (as well as the arms and upper body).
- Crab Walking – Sitting on the ground, with arms behind, the child raises themselves up off the ground on legs and arms (back facing the ground) and move sideways like a crab. The core muscles have to engage to support the body which aids in strengthening both core and upper body.
- Yoga Poses – There are several yoga poses that you can do with your children to help build core muscles. From making bridges to superman, there are many poses that children can do to build core strength. Find some specifics here: https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/child-development-core-strengthening-for-kids/
This goes for children who sit for anything length of time but especially for children who struggle – make sure you have breaks and opportunities for movement and vestibular input in between sitting sessions. This could be movement, massage, jumping, or even some yoga poses together. You will find that over time, children will be able to sit for longer periods and concentrate more easily.
Preparation is important (calming the sensory system) and having a plan for scheduled breaks with movement. This helps concentration, sitting behaviors and the ability to focus when required to sit still.
Without these breaks, children can suffer from fatigue (which can also result from any of the other issues). Fatigue will come more quickly to those children who struggle with balance and concentration and will make sitting still uncomfortable and difficult.
With planned activities to help strengthen and engage children, you will have more productive floor time activities.