Your child’s body belongs to them and only themselves. However, they live in a world where outside forces, most notably other people, influence what they do with it. Lacking a sense of physical awareness leaves them vulnerable both to accidents and people with less-than-honourable motives.
As a parent, it is your job to instill a sense of self in your little one. Here are four reasons why teaching body awareness is so important for our children.
1. It Develops Proprioception
Did you ever wonder why people who have had limbs amputated often still feel like the body part remains? Scientists now believe that the phenomenon may relate to proprioceptive awareness, a critical evolutionary development for the human central nervous system.
What is proprioception, and why does it matter? Proprioception refers to your sense of body awareness, of how you move through space as a complete organism.
You can try a simple experiment to understand this sense. Close your eyes and wave your hands in front of your face. Chances are, you still have a pretty good idea of how close to your nose your palms are, even though you can’t see them. You run a very low risk of accidentally smacking yourself upside the head while blind unless you have a neurological disease or disorder that affects your proprioception.
However funny accidentally striking yourself when you close your eyes might seem, it illustrates how vital developing your child’s proprioceptive sense is. Without this awareness, your little one could suffer untold injuries from bumping into walls and other objects and tripping over stationary obstructions like curbs.
You can see how toddlers struggle with their proprioceptive sense as they learn to walk. Like baby deer, their movements aren’t very coordinated or good at propelling them where they want to go. As they practice, they become less clumsy and accident-prone.
You can help your child develop proprioception by taking them to the park or otherwise providing open space where they can run, skip and jump. You can also introduce them to kiddie yoga to help them develop a sense of how their body can stretch and bend in oh-so-relaxing ways.
2. It Promotes Bodily Autonomy
Body awareness helps to promote your child’s sense of autonomy. While no parent likes to think about it, we live in a society where human trafficking and sexual abuse occur. Understanding that their physical self belongs to them alone can help keep your children safer from some predators.
For example, many pedophiles engage in grooming behavior before they progress to a sexual assault. Some of these take non-physical forms, such as developing a certain interest in a child and showering them with gifts and privileges. Over time, it often progresses to behaviors such as walking in on an undressed child while they change or insisting on bathing them way past the age where they should be doing so independently.
A child who doesn’t have a strong sense of bodily autonomy might feel uncomfortable if a playful tickle results in touching their genitalia. It might make them uncomfortable, but they also may lack the vocabulary and the sense that they have the right to say no and walk away. A young one who is confident saying, “Please don’t touch me in areas my bathing suit covers,” is much less likely to fall prey to childhood sexual abuse than one who never learned appropriate physical boundaries.
3. It Nourishes Healthy Habits
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 20% of American youth under the age of 18 qualify as obese, and more than that are overweight. While it is possible to be healthy and carry a few extra pounds, too much weight increases health risks. As you probably know, shedding the unwanted pounds doesn’t get easier as you age. Plus, your child could endure teasing that injures their self-esteem.
Teaching body awareness is vital to children because it helps foster healthy eating and exercise habits for life. When your child understands how the food they eat influences everything from their mood to their disease risk, they are more likely to make better choices — at least, most of the time.
Instilling healthy exercise habits when young is also much easier than coaxing someone off the couch in adulthood. Letting children explore how their bodies move through space and what they can do gives them a positive outlet for stress and a sense of pride in their accomplishments. Plus, they fight bedtime less when they move throughout the day.
4. It Improves Self-Esteem
Finally, body awareness helps your child develop their self-esteem. Think of how proud your little one felt the first time they kicked a soccer goal or used their hands to build a birdhouse. Your child gained a powerful sense of agency that their actions could influence their destiny. This realization helps decrease the anxiety that can stem from feeling like they are at the whims of forces beyond their control.
You can help your little one develop their body awareness by engaging them in sports and other physical activities. Please don’t overlook fine motor coordination. Arts and crafts such as needlepoint and paint-by-number can help kids become adept at working with their hands.
These 4 Reasons Illustrate Why Body Awareness Is So Vital for Our Children
Body awareness is important for children for the four reasons above. Please take the time to engage your little one in physical activity today.