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Body Awareness: Characteristics of Impaired or Poor Proprioception in Your Child
This article provides helpful learning information regarding body awareness and proprioception development in your child. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Imagine you are at a party. You walk up to someone and socialize, staying an appropriate distance from them as you speak. Someone comes around with drinks and you reach out to grab the glass, doing so on the first time. Have you ever thought about why you are able to do these seemingly simple tasks? It turns out they are skills that you learned once, how close to stand to a person when speaking and how far to reach for an object. This is called body image. It is being aware of your body and where it is in space, also known as body space awareness. Kinesthetic awareness is knowing how much force your child must use to put towards the movement of their body (Creating Body Image and Awareness). Now that you have learned these things, they are second nature to you and not something you even need to think about. This is the end result of practicing body awareness during our childhood development stage.
What is Body Image or Body Awareness?
The reason that we can move around in a dark room or not think about what our bodies are doing when we lay on the couch is because we have developed a great body awareness. Body awareness, or body image, is literally that, being aware of our bodies and all its different parts. “We use body awareness to understand where our bodies are in space and how our bodies move.” (5 Tips to Help With Body Awareness).
Body awareness is important because not only does it help us develop our fine and gross motor skills, but it helps us do simple tasks without thinking about how our bodies are going to move. Think about the last time you decided to sit on a chair. How much did you have to think about that movement? Chances are, you probably didn’t think at all. Your body just did the task.
“Information about body position travels through the spinal cord and into parts of the brain that are not conscious. Because of this, you are seldom aware of where your body parts are unless you actively think about them. As you read this book, your attention is focused on the concepts and information presented. You may be filtering out the sound of your children playing in the other room. Perhaps you’re eating a snack. Whatever you are doing, you are probably not thinking about your body position. Yet you are not falling off your chair or the couch because sensory receptors are taking care of that for you” (Family Education).
This concept can be difficult for children, because they are still learning about their bodies and how they fit in space. They overly rely on their vision to go throughout their day. Unlike you when you sit down, they have to think about different tasks. As they grow and practice, completing tasks over and over again, gaining a sense of their bodies, they gain a sense of body awareness. This is why children seem to always be on the go, they are obtaining a body awareness by figuring out how they are moving. When children don’t gain this bodily awareness as they should, they lack development of their proprioception system.
Characteristics of Impaired or Poor Proprioception
As a child, dealing with proprioception is difficult. They are constantly feeling as if they do not fit into the world. It’s also exhausting! They are always giving intense focus to even the smallest tasks, like walking around a table or writing too hard with their pencil so it breaks.
Your child might have a problem with body awareness if you are notice the following things:
- Moves awkwardly
- Avoids physical activity
- Chews on objects or clothing
- Observes their movement (like looking at their feet when running)
- Can’t mimic movements, like playing mirror
- Has difficulty learning new movements, especially if that movement is a gross motor skill
- Does not like to be in the dark or close their eyes
- Prefers small spaces like a fort or a closet
- Gives strong bear hugs
If your child struggles with proprioception, you may recognize this situation. Mother of four-year-old Pablo noticed a few of these things around the house. Pablo was constantly spilling his drinks. He had a hard time getting the last cheerios out of the bowl with his spoon. He gave extremely strong hugs. When it came time to go to the park, he would tell her that he was too tired to go. He would sit on a bench with her while his siblings ran around. When it was Pablo’s birthday, his Mom blindfolded him to surprise him with a bike and he had a total panic attack. He was inconsolable for hours.
Pablo was just struggling with body awareness. He didn’t know how much force to put on cups, so he always spilled them, and has difficulty knowing how much force to use in a hug. He struggles with the motor skills required to get the last cheerios out of the bowl. With the blindfold, Pablo’s Mother took away the only sensory information he was receiving from his brain, making him unsure of where his body was and how to navigate his body. At the park, Pablo was simply avoiding these proprioceptive experiences because he often failed at them.
Body Awareness and Learning
It is easy to see with the example about Pablo that if a child struggles with proprioception, they are much less likely to feel comfortable in a classroom setting. Tasks such as sitting at their desk or sitting cross-legged on the story time rug are extremely difficult for them. Their full attention will be on their bodies, not on whatever is being taught. Poor body awareness can also lead to difficulties in handwriting, pencil pressure, and poor pencil grip later in school.
Learning by Doing
There are many activities that you and your child can incorporate into your daily schedule to improve their body awareness to help them become more confident in not only the classroom but the world as well. The key is doing them often.
“Each child must learn for oneself what the body can do, and how and where the body moves. Learning can only take place by doing! The “doing” should be guided by aware, informed and knowledgeable teachers and parents. Every child deserves the right to become master of one’s self.” (Creating Body Image and Awareness)
Some ways that you and your child can work together to develop body awareness include the following:
- Play mirror. The adult touches their head and says, “this is my head, touch your head.” Child then touches their head and says, “this is my head.”
- Play the same activity, only this time with their eyes closed.
- Ask child to touch their body parts to their surroundings. For example, hand to door.
- Ask child to touch their body parts to other body parts. For example, Finger to toe.
- Any physical activity like jumping jacks, wheelbarrow, etc. will help them gain the confidence to move around.
- Provide child with body image cards and ask them to mimic the movement.
- Set up a mini obstacle course and ask the child to run through it several times.
- Practice their handwriting.
- Practice their fine motor development.
Other ideas can be found here:
- Heavy Work Activities Prevent Proprioceptive Dysfunction
- Body Awareness Teacher Handout
- Body Awareness Activities
- Ages and Stages: All About Body Awareness
It’s important for children to be confident in their body image and body awareness so they can connect with the world around them. “If the child does not know and understand itself as a physical being, it will be difficult for the child to use its body with comfort and control”(Creating Body Image and Awareness). Being aware of the problem, making your child’s educators aware of the problem, and practicing these exercises will help your child “feel secure and confident in transporting one’s body” (Creating Body Image and Awareness).
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs