November 13, 2019

Get Moving: How to Identify Gross Motor Skill Delays

Recognizing developmental delays is the first and most important step to getting help

One of the greatest challenges of parenting is walking that fine line between worrying needlessly and overlooking an issue that needs professional advice. Children are individuals who develop at their own pace and have different strengths and weaknesses — which makes it nearly impossible to know what to expect, regardless of how many children you’ve had before.

Due to the natural variation of abilities between children, it can be difficult to recognize a developmental delay with confidence. However, early intervention with treatment can make a significant difference in terms of overcoming obstacles. Learn more about the red flags that may indicate a delay in gross motor skills so you can decide whether your child would benefit from an evaluation.

What are gross motor skills

Gross motor skills require whole-body movement and generally involve the core muscles of the body. Standing, walking, running, jumping, sitting upright without support, and actions that involve eye-hand coordination are all key examples.

Childhood joys such as playing ball, riding a bike, or swimming all require gross motor skills, which emphasizes the importance of mastering these skills or recognizing deficits as early as possible.

Why gross motor skills matter

Gross motor skills evolve over time and assist in other important aspects of development, such as muscular strength, postural control, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, and balance. The development of gross motor skills begins as babies learn to scoot, roll, sit, crawl, and physically interact with toys. Encourage the development of gross motor skills in infancy by providing adequate time and space for unstructured play and room for the baby to practice reaching, grabbing, and moving.

Warning signs of a delay

Children generally develop motor skills from top to bottom. For instance, one of the first physical milestones for infants is the ability to hold their heads up. Next, they develop control of their upper bodies, followed by rolling over, sitting, standing with assistance, standing independently, walking, and climbing.

Children with a gross motor skill delay often have difficulties with the following:

  • Rolling over
  • Sitting
  • Walking
  • Jumping
  • Running
  • Head and neck control
  • Muscle stiffness or floppiness
  • Swallowing
  • Speech
  • Clumsiness
  • Posture
  • Muscle spasms

If you have concerns about any of the above — or if your child doesn’t seem to be growing the way they should, seems to tire quickly, is hesitant to engage in gross motor skills at the park or school, or is not hitting the typical benchmarks of development — bring up your concerns with your pediatrician. If you still have uncertainties or your pediatrician confirms your suspicions, look into no-cost Early Intervention programs available in your state.

How to help

The best way to help your child develop gross motor skills is through the simple act of playing. Encourage physical activity by engaging your child with physical movement as often as possible. There are several different techniques you can use, including:

  • Music: There’s something about music that inspires movement. Experiment with different tempos, dancing, playing simple instruments, and music/movement-based games like Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Hokey Pokey.
  • Toys: Avoid digital toys that perform for your child. Instead, choose toys that require manual interaction. Stacking rings, building blocks, balls, balance bikes, scooters, and playground equipment are all great options for practicing gross motor skills.
  • Activities: Teach your child games like Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, Red Rover, and hopscotch. Sports, gymnastics, yoga, and obstacle courses also emphasize spatial and body awareness.

Early identification of potential delays in gross motor skill development leads to faster results and is the best way to help your child overcome any related obstacles in their future. There are a number of resources available to you to kick start this process, and you’re the best advocate they could ever hope to have. Assess your child’s gross motor skill development, discuss any concerns with your pediatrician, and then take advantage of the many resources that are available to you.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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