What you can expect a young child to do
From the age of 7-8 years young children are expected to be able to do sit-ups in PE classes and sport training sessions. Children, especially boys, value the ability to do this exercise as well as their peers and are usually willing to expend time and energy getting it right.
Being able to sit up from lying flat on the back easily and several times in succession reflects good abdominal and neck muscle strength as well as trunk flexibility and coordination.
4-5 years and younger
Up to about the age of 5 young children sit up by twisting to one side and pushing up on one arm. This action requires less muscle power than coming up straight forwards.
By age 5 you can expect your child to be able to sit up over one arm and lie down with good control 5 times in succession.
5-6 year old
A 5-6 year old child should be able to sit up reaching forwards with the arms 5 times in succession. The legs lift up as as the child sits up.
6-7 year old
A 6-7 year old child should be able to sit up easily with the arms stretched forwards. The legs remain flat on the floor.
This can be done easily at least five time in succession.
8 years and older
By 8 years of age a child should be able to sit up with the arms reaching forwards from lying with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor.
The child can do this 5 times in succession with ease.
Why children have difficulty doing a sit-up
Weak and tight neck muscles
The first movement of a sit-up is lifting the head. This requires good strength in the neck muscles. Lifting the head up also stretches the neck extensor muscles, and if these are tight, bending the neck is difficult and uncomfortable.
Assessing neck flexion strength
1 Let your child lie flat on the floor or mat.
Mel can lift her head with relative ease, but finds holding the position for 5s hard work. Notice how her shoulder are hunched with effort.
Poor flexibility of the trunk
As you sit up and lie down again, the trunk needs to bend smoothly. If the trunk cannot bend easily, sitting up is difficult.
Assessing trunk flexibility
1 Instruct your child to lie on the back and bend both legs up so that the thighs are flat against the tummy. To do this you must tilt the pelvis backwards and flex the lower back.
2 Next ask the child to lift the head and put the forehead on the knees. He/she may need some help doing this action.
3 This movement should be easy and not cause any discomfort.
Mel is able to bring her head to her knees with relative ease. With a little gentle support she can also touch her knees to her forehead, but she finds this a little uncomfortable in her neck.
Very important: Do not push the head forwards, especially if the child experiences discomfort.
Important note: If your child experiences undue discomfort or pain in the neck and spine in this curled up position, you should consult your child's doctor or physical therapist.
Weakness in the abdominal muscle
If the abdominal muscles are weak the child cannot lift the head and shoulder up off the floor.
Assessing abdominal muscle strength
1 Let the child sit with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor.
2 Instruct him/her to lean back about half way to the floor and stay in the position for 10 counts.
3 Your child should be able to hold this position easily.
Watch out for next week's activity:
How to train a child to do a sit-up.
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