Why do we expect children to sit still when…

Guidelines for early language development
November 18, 2020
Reading Readiness Programme
April 15, 2021

By Dr Melodie de Jager

Why do we expect children to sit still when conception is an active process; the ensuing cell division is an active process; development of the embryo is an active process; breathing is an active process; reaching each milestone is an active process; touching, smelling, tasting, listening and seeing are active processes; sleeping, eating, sitting, walking, singing, reading, writing and learning are active processes…

The unfolding blueprint of each child is an active process propelled by an unseen driving force called a reflex system. The primitive reflex system uses simple movements to neurologically wire the brain, organs, senses and muscles together to communicate effectively with each other. This basic wiring occurs between conception and 14 months of age.

Three important things to remember:

  • Physical development has first call on brain activity.
  • Physical development (including sensory integration, sensory-motor integration, balance, etc.) forms the foundation for all later skills – emotional, social and intellectual (including perception, reading, writing, etc.)
  • Physical development happens through movement.

Does it mean – if a hiccup occurred 1) delayed reaching of milestones or 2) scrambled the sequence of milestones, that it may impact on a child’s emotional, social and intellectual development? The answer is yes!

Does it mean – if a baby moves unhampered in different ways, that it is building a firm foundation in preparation for academic and life skills? The answer is yes!

Does it mean – if a baby’s movement is hampered because it is predominantly in a reclining chair / pram, confined to limited space, or on the back that it may impact on physical development? The answer is yes!

How do you recognise a physical developmental delay?

A child older than six who finds it difficult to sit still and concentrate for 10 minutes (and longer when older), may experience a physical developmental delay. Such a child tends to move reflexively in an attempt to complete the sensory-motor wiring needed for learning ease. When the essential sensory-motor wiring is absent, the following behavioral indicators can alert a teacher that a child may experience a physical developmental delay:

  • Tactile defensiveness
  • Cant hop or balance on one leg
  • Battle to skip and gallop
  • Clumsy
  • Poor motor planning
  • Poor static and dynamic balance
  • Find climbing down stairs difficult
  • Fear of heights
  • Can’t tell left from right without a marker
  • Disorientation
  • Problems crossing the midline
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Poor auditory processing
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Hyper active or hypo active
  • Delayed language development
  • Phobias
  • Mood disorders
  • Dominant hand not established
  • Swing for long periods of time
  • Repeated banging of head
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Prefers watching TV or playing computer games to playing outside
  • Stiff posture
  • Can’t walk backwards
  • Can’t skip with a rope
  • Accident prone
  • Gets motion sick
  • Dizzy spells
  • Avoid rope bridges
  • Poor spatial orientation
  • Reversals
  • Low muscle tone
  • Avoids writing and reading
  • Dysphasia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Avoids sport and dance
  • Poor sensory integration
  • Poor perception
  • Attention deficit
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Self-esteem disorders
  • Thrill seeker
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Asperger syndrome

Will a child just ‘grow out of it’?

During normal development, primitive reflexes have a limited lifespan to fulfil its function. The function of the primate reflexes are to appear to wire (build and integrate) a part of the sensory-motor system before retiring, ready to re-appear when a wired sensory-motor pathway has been affected by illness or trauma.

However, when it does not fulfil its function during the appropriate time frame, the primitive reflex remains active and the child moves / acts in an uncontrolled and reflexive manner in an attempt to complete the sensory-motor wiring needed for learning. These inappropriate movements act as SOS signals, indicating a weakness in the wiring.

Because physical development has first call on brain activity, a child with a weakness on a physical developmental level finds it difficult to sit still, concentrate, access the thinking brain and complete age appropriate tasks. Such a child has the potential to do well, but stays stuck in a physical developmental stage and may display three or more of the behavioral indicators listed in the table. Unfortunately such a child does not just ‘grow out of it’.

The child will have to complete the wiring process by mimicking the specific primitive reflex reactions responsible for building and integrating that part of the wiring, before the child can ‘grow out of it’.

Nature uses the urge to move to help children to develop. Once they have developed sufficiently physically, children can control the urge to move all the time.

Can you rewire the brain and body?

Yes, due to its plasticity, the brain and body can be rewired.


Do you want to learn more?

For age appropriate brain and body exercises for babies and toddlers 0-3 years, visit BabyGym.

For exercises designed to mimic primitive reflexes – appropriate for preschoolers, children and teens 3 – 18 years, visit Mind Moves.


More from Dr Melodie de Jager:

Mind Moves – Moves that mend the mind

Mind Moves – Removing barriers to learning

Brain development, milestones and learning







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