Starfish Therapies

February 28, 2012

Developing Head Control with Pull to Sit

Pulling to sit can work on a baby’s head control as well as develop their core muscles such as their abs.  When they are lying flat on their back this will be the hardest position for them to control their head and neck muscles because they have to work fully against gravity.  In order to make it a little easier for them you can start them on an angle, such as your lap with your knees bent.

When you go to help them sit up using the pull to sit method you want to make sure they engage their whole body to help with the process.  I like to do this by holding their hands and giving a light tug in order to get them to engage their arms so that they will start ‘pulling’ themselves into sit.  Also by engaging their arms and other muscles they are using what I like to call ‘overflow’ to help engage the head and neck muscles. If your baby doesn’t engage their arms to help with the pulling up I would not continue with the motion.

You can tell how their head and neck muscles are developing over time by looking at how their head lag improves.  Head lag is how long it takes them to activate their head and neck muscles to lift their head up while they are pulling to sit.  As they get stronger they can activate their muscles closer and closer to being flat on the ground.  Eventually they will be able to activate immediately and all you are doing is guiding them up into the sitting position!

Another way to help these muscles develop is to do the opposite motion.  Early on it may be easier for them to engage their muscles as you start to lower them down.  They will automatically attempt to prevent themselves from ‘collapsing’ by activating their muscles to maintain their head position.  As you slowly lower them down to the ground it will get harder for them to hold their head up against gravity and it may drop back.  Until you know how long they can hold their head up you either want to have a support (like your legs) ready prior to being flat on the ground or  have a few pillows built up.

After a few repetitions of this your child gets better at it.  They may try to anticipate what they need to do and may stiffen up their whole body in order to try to ‘help’ you but they start to get the hang out of it and their head control gets better with each repeption because their muscles get more efficient at engaging and turning on when needed.

And, you can have fun with it such as playing games of peek-a-boo, or making funny faces or silly sounds.  What a great way for you to engage face to face with your baby while working on their gross motor skills!

For some older kids who are working on head control this can be a good way to help them as well.  You can also go extra slow at various points so they have to work at maintaining their head position as well as activating their muscles.  Another skill you may want to work on is once they reach the sitting position having them be able to hold their head in midline without it dropping forward once they are upright.



  1. Can I ask how old the baby is in the video and when you’d expect babies to do this by?

    Comment by Helen — January 9, 2015 @ 9:50 am | Reply

  2. How many times should you do this? My 3 month old has head lag and I think it’s from the fact I can’t put him on the play mat without his 20 month old brother trying to sit on him or throw toys at him…. so I need to do some work before we have to deal with referals and investigations…

    Comment by Michelle Sanderson — May 27, 2016 @ 5:12 pm | Reply

    • As often as you are able to do it throughout the day. Maybe get a few in after bath, or after changing his diaper, or when he gets up from a nap. Try to fit it into your daily routine. You could also look into a pack and play for giving him some floor time without his brother being able to get to him.

      Comment by Starfish Therapies — July 13, 2016 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks for the video 🙂 How old is the baby in the first video? Thanks 🙂

    Comment by Caitlin — August 14, 2016 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

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