Everywhere you go, the kids want to rock: hammocks and child development

If you’re a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you’ve probably heard plenty of information about how to nurture your child’s development. From feeding tips to socialization strategies to sleeping solutions, there’s no shortage of available advice — though it can often be overwhelming, confusing, even conflicting.

Caregivers may be different, but one thing they all share is the desire to do whatever they can to support their child’s development. Well, as it turns out, one of the best things caregivers can do for children may be to buy a hammock.

Science says: children need to move to develop

Children love to move. Whether it’s running or jumping, swinging or swimming, climbing or crawling, children engage in physical activity because it’s enjoyable. Remember the thrill that came from clambering to the top of the playground, the rush of whooshing down the big slide? For kids, the excitement of play — and the adrenaline feedback they receive — drives them onwards.

While children are busy having fun, their bodies are hard at work. Children playing are children practicing: physical movement develops hand-eye coordination and motor skills. As their dexterity increases and they become more adept, the faster they advance. And it’s a positive feedback loop: the more you learn, the more you push yourself to learn.

As a product manager at LA SIESTA, Patricia Alter is well aware of how children develop. “They may not be aware of why they are moving or what they are doing, but movement is how the neural connections are built and strengthened. That’s why it’s important for children to have regular activity — it’s part of their body’s development.”

With such obvious benefits for the physical and neurological processes, it’s easy to forget the role of psychology plays, especially in early childhood development.

Child development and the psychology of security

Catherine Ann Cameron is a professor, lecturer and researcher in the Psychology department at the University of British Columbia, and the author of several peer-reviewed journal articles focusing on children’s psychological development.

In 2006, Cameron was part of team of researchers observing 30-month-old children and their families. The researchers focused on how parents responded to their children’s requests for attention and comfort — what the researchers termed ‘security development.’ Though the families came from all over the world — Thailand, Canada, Peru, Italy, Great Britain — the researchers identified a commonality in parental behaviour. In nearly every instance, Cameron says, the parent’s response to their children’s request for comfort was to rock them. “In some cases, it was a hammock, in others a swing or a rocking chair,” Cameron recalls. “It all had the similar effect of allowing the child to recalibrate. The soothing it provides is the physiological stabilizer.”

As a psychologist, Cameron believes that rocking provides children a sense of security that is essential for their healthy development. “The stability it provides allows the child to start exploring their environment further and become functional adolescents.”

Cameron recounts the story of one Thai mother who, tired from a long work day, responded to her child’s request for attention by cuddling in a hammock. “All she had was this little bit of rocking,” Cameron explains, “and it gave the child so much sense of her mother’s presence.”

Caregivers take note: rather than worrying about how to respond correctly, it’s most important to respond by being there, with them. “For toddlers, having a quiet time with a caregiver — mom, or dad or grandparent — provided that restabilization,” Cameron says.

LA SIESTA — hammocks to suit every age

So you’re convinced of the benefits of a hammock. What’s on offer? LA SIESTA’s product line address each of phase of childhood…beginning, of course, in utero.

  1. Pregnancy: rest for mom, with benefits for baby

During pregnancy, babies are busy growing inside their mothers — and pregnant women are busy caring for the new lives growing inside them. That’s why hammocks are great for pregnant women, giving them a way to rest their bodies. “During pregnancy, it’s relaxing for women to spend time in a hammock,” Alter says. “It’s a great way to get rid of the pressure of carrying the baby.”

What’s more, the gentle movement of a hammock also provide benefits for the growing baby, who experiences movement in utero. By rocking mother and baby together, Alter notes, the hammock facilitates healthy fetal development. That’s why the first thing expectant parents should do is hang a large Flora Kingsize Hammock …after packing the hospital bag, of course.

  1. Babies

Babies are busy learning about themselves and the world around them. Baby hammocks like the Yayita are designed to be safe places for babies to engage in exploration. The cradle-like nature of the baby hammock makes it responsive to the infant’s movement — when the baby moves, the hammock rocks. This action-reaction process helps them learn about cause and effect.

For babies, exploring the world is exciting. But it can also be overstimulating, and even downright scary. And when times get tough, there’s nothing babies do better than cry.

Crying is often a response to a specific need, and usually stops when that need is met. Occasionally, however, babies will keep crying. In situations where babies have trouble settling, parents can use the baby hammock to provide a feeling of enclosure. “It’s the sensation that something is holding them, supporting them, that babies crave,” Alter says. “So the baby hammock is good for their mental state, the need to feel safe.”

  1. Toddlers/adolescents

Once kids start moving, they don’t stop! The constant flurry of activity is exciting for toddlers — though it can sometimes be exasperating for parents. It’s important to remember that movement is how children learn; how their bodies and brains develop.

Toddlers want to move, to take in things around them, to interact with anything and everything. At this age, Alter says, parents should provide them with as many different experiences as possible. “The more they can experience, touch feel and do,” Alter says, “the richer their development will be.” So why not hook your little tyke up with a Hanging Nest?  When it’s time to mimic the parents, you can’t go wrong with the IRI Rainbow hammock — same concept, kid-sized design. Tweens love the hammock chair.

As Alter points out, being a child isn’t always easy, and learning life’s lessons can take it’s toll. When kids need a place to escape from the pressures of the world, they can seek refuge in a hammock. “Hammocks allow children to spend time away from their busy day, with their thoughts, without interruption or pressure,” she says. “These days, children don’t often have much time to themselves. So the hammock can provide a retreat.”

Kids benefit from a hammock in so many different ways, Alter says, that investing in one is a no-brainer. “Compared to buying an expensive toy, or a tablet, a hammock will have a far wider benefit for children,” Alter says. “So many products geared towards children only work on one aspect: the child’s brain, or on learning, but not the mind and body. But the hammock is really providing all of that stimulus — the body, brain and mind.”

There are many ways to sit in a hammock. How many of them do you know?