Rolling over is one of the first milestones of a child’s gross motor development. Rolling typically occurs on a consistent basis around 6 months of age (both back to belly, and belly to back), though infants begin practicing as early as 3 months. Rolling is an important skill, as it is a transition from one position to another, and the first mode of mobility for a child to explore their environment outside of their immediate surroundings. Rolling has many foundational components that prepare the body for higher-level skills as children grow, including head, trunk and pelvic rotation, weight shifting, and strengthening of core muscles (abdominals, back extensors).
If your child is having difficulty with rolling, here are 3 therapist-approved tips:
Where the head goes, the body will follow. Using toys/music can be very helpful to entice your little one to look and follow with their eyes (or orient to sound), which will result in head rotation, and then rotation of their trunk. If you are using a toy to visually motivate your baby, you can start by placing a toy in their field of vision, then slowly bring it to one side in the direction you want them to roll.
Does your child have difficulty starting a roll? Initiating rolling (whether on their back or their belly) requires movement against gravity which can be difficult for your little one to start if their muscles are not yet strong enough. One strategy that can be helpful is to start them lying on their side, so they can be successful to complete the last half of the movement. In this position, gravity will help them rather than work against them. As your child improves, you can begin to increase the amount of the motion they are doing within the transition. If starting on their side is too easy, another strategy is to place them on a wedge or prop that declines, and practice rolling down. This decreases gravity while allowing your child to experience the full transition.
Related video: Supine to Sit Transitions During Diaper Changes
Often times a child has difficulty rolling because they aren’t properly shifting their weight to roll. Because of the weight of their head, it is common that their weight is distributed more on there shoulders, chest, and arms. This results in them looking “stuck”. To help, you can provide support at your child’s hips to shift more weight through their pelvis, and shift from one hip to the other as needed to complete the motion.
These strategies are great to use separately or all together to get your baby to roll over and become more successful with this foundational gross motor skill. The best way to help your baby learn to roll over is to give them many opportunities to practice and perfect throughout your day. As with any skill your child is learning, repetition is key!
Lindsey is the lead trainer and physical therapist at NAPA Boston. She is trained in NDT, Kinesiotaping, and CME. She graduated with her doctorate in physical therapy from Northeastern University in 2009.