Cultural and social factors play a large role in the development of infants’ motor skills. The activities parents engage in with their infants impact the child’s muscular development and are largely responsible for the differences in developmental growth between cultures.
Walking and crawling are two developmental milestones that occur at varying ages, due to differing societal practices in infant care. Many African women carry their infants on their backs while they work; this position helps infants develop strong core and leg muscles, which facilitates walking at an earlier age (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2010). In contrast, European and American infants have begun to crawl at a later age than was previously typical. The “Back to Sleep” campaign, put into effect in 1994 to reduce the incidence of SIDS, emphasizes the importance of putting infants to sleep on their backs. The “Back to Sleep” campaign has experienced great success in reducing the rate of infant death due to SIDS, but has also had an effect on infants’ motor development. Spending less time on their stomachs, infants are not developing the muscular strength or control needed to propel themselves forward (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2010).
Parents can help speed infant development by practicing the motions and postures necessary for the aspect of development they want to promote. To encourage crawling, parents should ensure their infant gets adequate “tummy-time” to strengthen the neck, back, and arm muscles. This position also helps infants realize they have the potential to be independent and move about without assistance. Engaging a newborn’s reflexes, such as the stepping reflex, also helps promote future development. Using the stepping reflex to practice the motions of walking with a newborn can lead to voluntary walking at a younger age (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2010).
Kail, R. V. & Cavanaugh, J. C. (2010). Human development: a life-span view (5th ed.). Mason, Oh: Wadsworth Cengage Learning