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How to Protect Your Child's Posture When Schooling From Home

Learning from home

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Key Takeaways

  • Remote learning has led to an increase in back and neck pain in children.
  • An ergonomic learning space is important and achievable.
  • Encourage your children to stretch and move frequently throughout the day.

When schools around the world moved to remote learning, most families experienced increased technology use in makeshift study spaces. This combination resulted in a ast increase in complaints of neck and back pain in children across the United States and the globe.

“I've been in practice nearly 20 years seeing families and have never seen such widespread episodes of severe levels of pain, especially in younger kids.” reports Brandie Nemchenko, DC, a chiropractor. “As families were forced to make a dining room, a couch, or a child's bed a makeshift office, coupled with stress and anxiety—pain levels have risen," she adds.

Although many children are moving back to in-person learning, others continue to learn remotely or in hybrid style learning. Every state, school, and family will have different needs for learning. Regardless of how your child is learning, paying attention to their posture is paramount.

Jennifer Brocker, DC, President of the American Chiropractic Association on Chiropractic Pediatrics, explains that repetitive, prolonged sitting with poor posture causes stress on the spine and muscles. She explains that the stress on the body can lead to pain over time and in the short term can cause restlessness.

“This stress on their bodies can lead to restlessness, fidgeting, and inattentiveness.” says Brocker, “By giving children a workspace that is set up for their size, it lessens the stress [on the body] and can improve attentiveness.”

How You Can Help Your Child's Posture

Ergonomics

Brocker explains that having an ergonomic setup for children will help to support their posture, maintain attentiveness, and reduce musculoskeletal pain. “For kids that means having a supportive chair that allows them to rest their feet on a rigid surface, be looking roughly straight forward to see their screen, and resting their arms on their worktop comfortably without raising their shoulders.”

For those heading back to in-person learning, most will have the benefit of ergonomically sized desks and chairs designed especially for children. To purchase these items for home learning is unrealistic and unaffordable for most families. But it is possible to use what you have around the home to set up an ergonomic space for your children.

“This does not mean parents have to go out and buy all new furniture for their child,” reassures Brocker. “It’s easy to modify a table or adult desk to a child’s needs by putting a box or crate under their chair for their feet to rest on and using a firm cushion to raise their seat to the right height for the worktop," she says.

Movement 

Brocker reminds parents that kids actually move quite often at school. “They are usually up and moving around the classroom to ask a question, sharpen a pencil, [or to] retrieve a supply from across the room.” She says, “Trying to mimic those little movement breaks at home is a great way to support their spinal health”

Ryan Coleman, a strength and conditioning specialist at the Orlando Health National Training Center, agrees that regular movement is essential for reducing pain and improving posture in children. He also recommends regular stretching and strength-building exercises.

“Get them up and get them moving. Schedule breaks for 15-20 minutes throughout the day. Increase stretching during those breaks," says Coleman, suggesting that this will help produce postural realignment.

He also recommends stretching the muscles that feel tight and sore. Often, this will be the chest muscles and the front of the shoulders from being rounded over a screen or book. Encourage your child to stretch these muscles by opening their arms wide, grasping the hands behind the back if able, and looking up to the sky.

Coleman also says it is important to strengthen the opposing muscle groups. Strengthening the muscles of the back, core, and around the shoulder blades can help support the spine in better alignment.

A few exercises to help your children include:

  • Bird-Dog: Kneel in an all-fours position. Extend your right leg and your left arm out at the same time. Tuck them back in toward your belly. Extend them out again. Repeat this 5-10 times and then switch sides and repeat.
  • Chin Tucks: Keep your chest up straight. Have your ears in line with your shoulders. Tuck your chin in toward your neck. The whole time, imagine a wire lifting the crown of your head up to the sky. 
  • Scapular Squeezes: Sitting or standing, keep shoulders relaxed and down. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Hold this squeeze for a few seconds and then relax and repeat.

Coleman reminds parents that it’s best to do these exercises with their children. “Lead by example! Children will tend to mirror and match the behaviors they see on a regular basis.” He advises. “Being a great example for their children will not only produce positive behaviors, but might help to improve their own pain or discomfort from poor posture.”

Dr Jennifer Brocker, DC

[Kids] are usually up and moving around the classroom to ask a question, sharpen a pencil, [or to] retrieve a supply from across the room. Trying to mimic those little movement breaks at home is a great way to support their spinal health.

— Dr Jennifer Brocker, DC

Emotional Health 

Nemchenko advises parents that pain in the body can be linked to emotional health in addition to poor posture. The world has felt so much anxiety in the past year, and children feel this too, in some cases more than adults feel it.

If you recognize pain in your children, consider not only the physical habits they are keeping, but also the emotional ones.

“Habits they are learning right now are so critical for their health, not only physical but mental,” advises Nemchenko, “It's critical parents more than ever inspire and choose to be resilient and teach children to be creative and active in their well-being.”

What This Means For You

Whether your kids have returned to school full-time or remain at home in some form, it's important to keep their posture in mind. Doing so can help their physical and mental health, and it can also serve as a reminder that you should be monitoring your own work situation to ensure good posture.

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