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Learning to Walk
Movement lessons from our toddler
Last month, our daughter started walking. Over three days she went from stumbling a few steps to walking with great care to running like a maniac. Her pace of improvement was rapid and her determination was inspiring.
The excitement at her newfound abilities poured out in gleeful shouts. Within a few steps, she’d thrust her hands up in celebration with so much enthusiasm that she’d topple over.
Soon, she realized her victory dance was hindering her progress and channeled her energy forward. Her shouts and laughter grew louder as she paraded further and further around the house.
We didn't teach her any of this. We didn't give her walking aids or push her along the developmental journey. She wouldn’t even hold our hand while she was practicing, giving us an intense stare that said: “I’ve got this.”
Watching our daughter her ability to roll, crawl, and now walk has been beautiful. Everything was instinctual and innate. A reminder of our primal desire to move our bodies. An example of our deep capacity to learn from within. And, a montage of the visceral joy in discovering new physical abilities.
Embracing the developmental journey
As parents, we're told not to focus too much on developmental metrics and milestones. Yet, doctors are quick to show us a growth chart with our child's percentile relative to other kids. Grandparents, friends, and even strangers love to remind us that kids “typically walk at one and talk at two". Most parents have had a few late nights googling: “when should my kid....”, hoping their toddler isn't falling behind.
These fears feel especially pronounced with walking. It hits different when your kid is still on the ground with their peers running laps around them. So many parents feel pressure to speed their kids along to get them walking asap.
This would have been me had I not attended training in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS). DNS is a rehab approach that focuses on movement through the lens of developmental stages and the nervous system.
During a lunch break, I told the instructor how fast our kid had started rolling and asked about the timing of developmental milestones. I was hoping he'd tell me that we must have a future athlete on our hands but his response surprised me:
“it’s far more important that kids spend enough time in each stage than that they quickly progress to the next one. In fact, developmental issues sometimes occur because kids skip stages or advance to a level before their bodies are ready”
He was telling me to be patient. To let our kid go through her own development journey. Babies need to develop the ability to stabilize before they can crawl. Toddlers need to get comfortable loading their hands and feet before they can walk. None of these movements or stages happen in isolation. They all are valuable. Embrace the journey, don't chase the destination.
Lessons for Adults
I don't share this story to tell other parents how to approach parenting.2 But because there’s so much we can learn by watching the way young kids experience and navigate the world:
Rediscover the childlike joy of mastering a new movement.
We can't rewind the clock to experience the shock and satisfaction of our first steps. Yet we can feel the delight and pride of learning a new movement.
We can nail our first handstand, conquer the pistol squat, or deepen into that elusive yoga pose. We can learn a complex olympic lift, discover the flow of surfing, or level up to new rock climbing heights.
In doing so, we recapture that feeling of those first few steps into uncharted new terrain.
Spend time working on the foundational elements before chasing performance.
When embracing a new form of exercise, it’s common to rush through foundational stages. New weightlifters feel pulled to load the bar to the max. New runners feel called to attempt a half marathon.
These pursuits are motivating and satisfying. Yet rushing to achieve them risks injury and burnout.
Instead, it's valuable to focus on the form, give your joints and ligaments time to adjust, and build the intensity on top of a solid foundation.
Explore development movement patterns to improve your stabilization and mobility.
While we can't redo our own initial developmental movement journey, we can return to it. We can still play with foundational movements like rolling, crawling, and sitting up. We can unwind decades of stress and disruption to our natural capacities.
This is the approach of DNS. It encourages adults to get on the floor and recondition their movement patterns by mimicking a developing toddler.
I'll share more in the future on this approach but here's a good example video if you want to try:
Thank you for reading and joining me in exploring these themes. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out directly or via the comments if you have reflections, ideas, or questions.