Silliness, craving sweets, and aggression. Who doesn’t know a child or an adult with one of these symptoms? Often times you wonder if this is just a phase, and you think about what might be causing it. In some cases, these symptoms occur in a child or an adult due to retained or unintegrated primitive reflexes
Primitive reflexes are automatic, stereotypical movements that develop prior to birth and shortly after. They affect posture, movement, regulation, and engagement. They also establish gross patterns of movement and create pathways for self-expression through movement. They progress to build and blend together to create more varied movements.
Primitive reflexes are present in infants during their first year of life. They are essential in a child’s growth and help in the development of more skilled movements such as standing, walking, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and maintaining posture. Most are integrated by the end of the first year, but some could remain even when the child grows older which may affect their performance in daily life. (CrossRoads Insitute, 2016).
One primitive reflex – the Moro reflex – occurs when an infant’s head drops backwards which gives the sensation of being unsupported. The infant responds with extension (spreading out arms and legs) along with an inhale and then returns to flexion (pulling arms and legs towards the body) with an exhale (Manela & Zwolinski, 2015). The Moro reflex should be integrated by four months. If it is not, it can lead to various deficits and behavioral issues such as:
- Mood swings
- Aggressive behaviors
- Craving sweets
- Silliness or being a class clown
- Difficulty making decisions
- Poor stamina
- Needing a lot of movement or disliking movement
- (CrossRoads Institute, 2016)
You can test to see if your child has an unintegrated Moro reflex by tilting their chair back while they are seated and looking at their reaction, but please do not tilt the chair back too much or let them fall. If your child has it and also relates to more than one of listed symptoms, here are three exercises to help with the integration of the Moro reflex. Doing them 3-7 times daily has proven to decrease those behaviors.
- Starfish Exercises: Sit on a couch or chair. Spread your legs and arms and look up; inhale on the count of four. Exhale on the count of five while tucking chin in and bringing your right hand over your left hand and right leg over the left leg. Repeat 3-7 times (Johnson, 2014).
- Mr. Peanut: While lying down on your back, place a long pillow on your torso, spread your arms and legs, and inhale on the count of four. Exhale on the count of 5-7 seconds and wrap arms and legs around pillow with right hand over left hand and right leg over left leg. Start again from the beginning and cross your arms and legs the other way.
- Pop Goes Calvin! Lay on your side in fetal position and make sure the soles of your feet are firmly touching the wall. Tuck your chin down into your chest. On the count of ten, push your feet off the wall and extend hands up and above your head while quickly twisting to lie on your stomach and zooming away from the wall in a fluid motion (Manela & Zwolinski, 2015).
For most people, there is a decrease in frequency, duration, or intensity of aggression, silliness, and/or sweet cravings if the exercises are done consistently for 6-12 weeks. If these techniques work for you or your child, continue them for 6-12 months to make sure the effects stay in their system. If you find the child regresses when the exercises are not done, a nutritional supplement is usually needed to help the effects integrate into their system.
Often times when problems go unnoticed, it can affect a person’s performance in daily tasks, emotional reactions, and interactions with people and the environment. That is why we as parents can learn to detect these issues and areas of concern in our children, find out the cause of it, and see if it is hindering our children in reaching their full potential. Unintegrated primitive reflexes may be one reason, but it may not be the main one. The important part is seeking help and advice and following through with the suggested treatment and exercise in a consistent manner.
The word “parenting” is derived from the Latin word that means to “bring forth.” Moro reflex integration on yourself and your child, when necessary, is one component of bringing forth your child to be secure and grounded.
CrossRoads Institute (2016). Primitive Reflexes. Retrieved from http://www.crossroadsinstitute.org/child-programs/123-grow/inpp-reflexes.html.
Johnson, K. (2014, July). The best moro reflex integration exercise. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQ4K9sw7by8
Manela, M., & Zwolinski, C. R. (2015). The parent-child dance: A guide to help you understand and shape your child’s behavior. Passaic, NJ: OT Thrive Publishing.