Importance of learning to fall well

Toddlers who are just learning to stand and walk independently do a lot of falling (Adolph et al 2012).This is an important part of learning to make the important, very rapid, adjustments in the alignment of the trunk and limbs needed to maintain balance in standing and when walking. 

Typically developing toddlers mostly fall without hurting themselves. This is because they have learned to flex their knees as they go down.

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When they fall backwards they flex the knees, tip the trunk forwards and lift the head which allows them to sit down rather than falling backwards and banging their heads. 

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They also do not get overly distressed when they fall, and will most often get straight back up onto their feet again. 

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When a typically developing toddler falls forwards they stretch the arms out to break the fall, and will usually lift the head up so that it does not bang it on the floor. 

Toddlers and young children with movement difficulties often do not have the muscle strength and coordination in the trunk, arms and legs for the very fast protective responses needed for falling down in a more controlled manner.  

Some children topple over laterally without bending their knees and with minimal protective reaching out with their arms. They may hit their heads on the floor or on close-by walls or furniture. This is a pattern seen in infants who are just learning to balance in standing. 

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Training for falling well 

The aim of these activities is to train the child to bend the knees and lower themselves down onto the floor in a more controlled manner when they loose their balance. 

Reaching down to the floor in supported standing 
Let the infant stand close to a low table or a chair for hand support.

Encourage him to reach down to the floor to pick up a toy and put it on the table. This action involves bending the knees to lower the body enough to reach the floor. 

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Suggestions for games to get your child reaching down in standing

The tricky bit of this activity is finding activities that will get the infant to reach down and come up again repeatedly. Below are some suggestions.

Posting box activities Put the posting box on the table and the "posting" toys on the floor near your child's feet. 

Packing toys away  Put the toys on the floor and the packing away box on the table. 

Sitting down and standing up 
Typically developing toddlers are able to squat and stand up again easily. This requires strong leg muscles and good balance.

Practicing sitting down onto a low step strengthens the leg muscles and gets the child used to bending the knees and going backwards at the same time. 
This activity is also useful if your toddler tends to keep the legs straight when reaching down to the floor. 

Activity instructions 
Let the infant sit on a 10-15 cm high step facing a stool, sofa or low table. 
Encourage the toddler to reach forwards towards the chair or sofa and stand up and then sit down again.  Read more

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Sitting down onto a soft surface 
Once the infant is confident sitting down onto a low step, replace the step with a large foam block or a pile of big pillows. 

Encourage your child to bend the knees and fall back onto the pillows. This activity helps to build confidence as well as overcome the fear of falling.

As the infant  falls backwards he/she also learns to flex the hips and tilt the trunk forwards and flex the neck. . 

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Falling forwards 
It is also important that infants learn to bend the knees and stretch the arms forwards when loosing balance in a forwards direction.

Start with your child facing a high foam block - the block should reach up to about hip height. . 

Encourage the infant reach forwards with the arms and then topple over onto her hands. In most instances the infant will bend the knees as she topples forwards.

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You may need to support her by holding the pelvis to ensure that she does not fall onto her face.  You can give a little push with your hands to get her moving forwards. Do this slowly to start with, and maintain your support at the hips. 

Once she is confident and enjoying falling forwards on a block/soft surface, make the surface lower so that she falls further before catching her weight on her arms. 

See also 

Development and assessment of learning to stand 

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Guides to assessment and intervention 

Activities for training standing