Marguerite Kelly
Family Almanac

Daughter is shying away from physical activity

Question: Our 3-year-old daughter is tall for her age and is extroverted, happy and confident in many areas, but she’s physically timid, relatively inactive and rather weak, and she resisted our encouragement to be active until a few months ago.

Before that, she would sit up and roll to her tummy when she wanted to get off of her back and she would climb up the stairs on her hands and feet even though she knew how to walk up the stairs.

Her behavior changed when she started taking gymnastics.

She blossomed after her kind teacher suggested that we institute “gymnastics practice” at home and had us teach our child to lift her head and to walk up and down the stairs without holding on to the bannister. Now she uses her body in all kinds of new ways and even climbs the jungle gym at the park if we call it “gymnastics practice.”

But my daughter recently developed a fear of the rope that is used at gymnastics, and she won’t swing and drop from it anymore or go on the swings at the park even though she used to love them.

She is the youngest in the class. Should we drop it until she is older? Or will dropping it just make her fears grow? I have no faith in my instincts because one of my parents never urged me to do anything scary and the other was sometimes overbearing and mean about my childhood fears. This turned me into the weakest, most timid child at school, and it was so hard to recover from it. I don’t want that to happen to my little girl.

Answer: Keep your daughter in her gymnastics class, at least for now, because the teacher is handling her problem so wisely, but let her drop the moves that bother her; she’s not ready for them. You also should ask your child whether she had a fall from the swing or whether someone teased her about her fears, just to rule out those possibilities.

She has never been very strong or active, however, and might need a full work-up with a pediatrician or at a children’s hospital to find out whether something is wrong and who can fix it. Different developmental delays have different causes and different treatments.

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If certain activities make your child feel woozy, she might need to have a pediatric ophthalmologist test her depth perception or a developmental optometrist find out whether her eye muscles are synchronized.

If her balance is off, she could have a sensory processing or other disorder and might need to be treated by an occupational therapist.

Such a therapist might help your daughter’s balance by having her put a puzzle together while sitting on a swaying platform or do exercises with a large ball or on a balancing board. Or maybe she’ll tell you to have your child go swimming or ride a pony every week, or even have you lay a 2-by-4 on top of a couple of bricks in the hall and tell you to walk on it from time to time. Your daughter will imitate you because that’s what children do, and this will help her balance quite a bit.

You’ll find many more exercises in “Growing an In-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz and Joye Newman (Perigee; $16), as well as some great advice in the revised edition of “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Kranowitz (Perigee; $16). Both books tell parents, clearly and firmly, that the better their children move their bodies, the better they will think.

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