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Your son never makes it across the room without tripping over the dog. Or he still spills his milk at the breakfast table long after most kids can pour from the container without spilling. Such physical awkwardness may stem from one of many causes. Before your child started school, you and your family doctor would have spotted and dealt with any obvious cause. Most often, the new awkwardness shows that your child is somewhat slower in developing some of the gross motor skills. Or he may be going through a rapid growth spurt that temporarily affects his coordination. It's rare, but the child may have a diagnosable condition called developmental coordination disorder (DCD).
If your child's awkwardness affects all his physical activities, discuss with your family doctor the possibility of DCD. It affects about 6 per cent of children and is difficult to diagnose before the child becomes more physically active. Your doctor may decide on a referral to a neurologist to determine if DCD is at the root of the problem. More likely, though, there is a more common cause. The awkwardness may be genetic, or your child may simply not have had enough opportunities to be involved in the physical activities that develop his gross motor skills.
Motivating an awkward child
If your kid shies away from organized sports because he feels incompetent, don't push him. Too much pressure from his parents might cause him to withdraw even more from physical activity. Let him go at his own speed, but help by simplifying games to suit his skill level. In other words, help keep his options open, rather than choose one sport. He might be interested in sports that initially require less precise movements and coordination. Swimming might be preferable to hockey, and soccer to tennis, or he might enjoy individual physical activities that emphasize repetition -- yoga or karate, for example.
It would be best to give this child many low-stress, noncompetitive opportunities to work on his gross motor skills. "Where another child needs one hundred practices to be able to catch the ball, these kids are going to need five hundred," says Graham Fishburne, a professor of elementary education at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "They're going to need mega-practice." The key is for parents to be creative in adapting games or sports so that the child can succeed. If they're motivated, they will stick with it, so it's important to choose activities that are appropriate to their developmental level.
Activities for six- to nine-year-olds
Let him learn to skate with a hockey stick. It provides support and brings his centre of gravity lower.
Letting your child ride on a tandem bike attachment behind you introduces her to the pleasures of the open road before she's mastered the turning and stopping skills.
Going up and down those stairs is a good workout. It's fun to do with friends.
There's no arm movement required. The legs get good exercise in a very easy motion.
Set up targets (pizza boxes are a good size) and let your child toss away.
Make your own course in the back yard or head out to one in your community.
Traditional physical education classes and outdoor games at school are difficult for awkward kids. Most provinces now include differently abled kids in the regular classroom, so teachers are more accustomed to making changes in sports or other activities to include a range of abilities. To make up for physical deficiencies, children need the same parental and school support that they would need to overcome academic deficiencies. Ask your child's teacher how she modifies the phys. ed. activities so that all kids can participate without the pressure of competition. Perhaps the teacher might invite a parent with a strong arm to throw out ball after ball so that these kids can practise catching a ball and throwing it back. This one-on-one activity gives them more opportunity for participation than a game of baseball in which most players on the teams sit on the bench.