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To Crawl or Not to Crawl:

The Developmental benefits of crawling and potential deficits for non-crawling infants

All parents want the best for their children and want to encourage them to develop their fine motor and gross motor skills within age appropriate time frames. As pediatric therapists, we are keenly aware that the developmental skills acquired through infancy and early childhood significantly impact a child’s later performance with academics and within activities of daily living. Although missing one or two milestones here and there isn’t necessarily cause for concern, missing or skipping some critical developmental milestones can significantly impact a child’s performance later in life, which most families we speak to find surprising.

So, what’s the big deal with learning to crawl and why are more children skipping this stage of development?

“In 1994, several national health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, started encouraging parents to put babies to sleep on their backs to help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The lifesaving outcome: The incidence of SIDS has decreased more than 50 percent. But according to several studies, an inadvertent result of the campaign is that more kids are achieving motor milestones later, or bypassing them altogether, because their upper bodies aren’t as strong due to lack of time spent on their stomachs. When babies skip crawling  — and by this we mean the classic hands-and-knees crawl  — then they miss out on more opportunities to develop that strength and wind up with weaker upper body muscles.”-Parenting Magazine, (http://www.parenting.com/article/do-babies-need-to-crawl)

To be clear, we are not suggesting that if a child does not crawl that he/she will be delayed in walking; however, crawling is NOT just about moving from point A to point B. Crawling has MORE to do with core strengthening, hip stability, shoulder stability, bilateral integration of musculature, and strengthening the upper body and LESS to do with being a precursor to walking.

Since crawling strengthens the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders some non-crawling children may show decreased strength for things such as picking themselves up from the floor, holding silverware, or holding a pencil.

Crawling also establishes foundational bilateral coordination skills necessary for a variety of daily activities. The movements required to crawl cause both sides of the brain to work together to perform movements. Our non-crawling children may have difficulty with bilateral coordination (coordinating both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner) which can be seen later in life as difficulty with daily tasks such as dressing, tying shoes, playing with an object using two hands (ex. holding a baby doll with one hand and brushing the baby doll’s hair with the other), hold a piece of paper and cutting or writing with the other hand, and handwriting ability.

Crawling aids in sensory exploration of a child’s environment by allowing interaction with their hands on the ground while navigating their world using their visual spatial skills and depth perception. Non-crawling children may exhibit decreased body awareness, balance, or aversions to different textures such as not wanting to play in sand/grass or swinging.  Hand and eye coordination may also be delayed for non-crawling children.

Crawling aids with mental/cognitive development as well! Children learn about taking risks and failure through crawling. They are able to connect with their environment in new ways which builds self confidence and independence. Their brain activity is also stimulated through the continuous movement of crawling to develop concentration, memory, comprehension and attention.

There is an interesting theory about a link between lack of crawling and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It all has to do with a reflex we are born with called the “symmetric tonic neck reflex” (STNR). This reflex helps us operate our upper and lower body independently. Usually this reflex is inhibited, or matures, between nine and twelve months. When a child gains independent control of his or her neck, arms and legs, the STNR is matured. This can be achieved through alternate hands and knees crawling for at least six months. When this reflex does not integrate, some of the symptoms are:

  • Tendency to slump when sitting at a desk
  • Difficulty keeping bottom in seat and feet on the floor when sitting at a desk
  • Poor eye-hand coordination
  • Slowness at copying tasks
  • Difficulty copying from a blackboard while at a desk
  • Difficulty with vertical tracking (important for math equations)
  • Poor attention
  • Clumsiness

The book “Stopping ADHD” cites a study by Dr. Miriam Bender that found that at least 75 percent of the learning-disabled people surveyed had an immature symmetric tonic neck reflex contributing to their disability.” (http://www.medcentral.org/Main/Whatssoimportantaboutcrawling.aspx)

Should I encourage crawling even if my child is walking?

The short answer is “yes”. Even if you child is older and walking, incorporating crawling into play based activities is a great way to build core strength, visual spatial skills, sensory integration skills, and bilateral coordination. Encourage your child to crawl through play tunnels on the playground or at home. Use pretend play with crawling to “explore” your home like crawling through the jungle on a safari. It’s never to late to develop these skills….and as adults, you may find that you’ll enjoy the benefits of upper body and core strengthening with crawling as well!

If you have concerns with your child’s development and would like to speak with one of our Licensed Therapists, please contact us at (704) 821-0568 or email us at info@pediatricboulevard.com 

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