How to sit at a desk: back-friendly tips for kids

Like it or not, lockdown has thrust us all into the world of home-schoolingFor some of us this is a huge pain in the neck, however, this may just be the case for our kids as well. Literally!  

The more time our kids spend at the computer, the more likely it is that they’re slouching or sitting in some other chiropractor’s nightmareofaposture. School classrooms may be designed for children, but our kitchen and dining room tables are not.  

Even an adult’s desk may not be suitable for a child. Unfortunately, what this means is there’s a higher likelihood of back and neck pain. As a result, ergonomic workstations are just as important for our children as they are at the workplace. 

So how should our kids be sitting at the computer? Here are a few guidelines that may help to keep those muscle aches away. 

Ensure good posture 

When it comes to good posture at the computer, the general rule of thumb is: 

  • Their forearms should be parallel to the floor. 
  • Their elbows should be bent approximately 90-110 degrees.
  • Their upper arms should be relaxed and held close to the body. 
  • Their wrists should be level with their forearms. 
  • There should be 90-90-90-degree alignment between their ankles, knees, and hips. An angle slightly greater than 90 degrees at the hip is also fine. 
  • Make sure your child isn’t rounding their shoulders. 
  • Make sure your child’s bottom isn’t sliding forward on the chair. 

Organise a good workspace 

  • Items that the child uses most should be placed nearby so they don’t have to bend or twist their body or neck unnecessarily. 
  • Alternate sides on which these items are placed. 

Computer screen 

  • Place the computer screen directly in front of your child. 
  • Make sure their eyes are level with or just below the top of the screen. 
  • Your child must be able to comfortably view the screen without having to noticeably tilt their neck forwards or backwardsIf the screen is too high their neck will tilt backwards and if it is too low, their neck will tilt forwards. 
  • The screen should be placed about an arm’s length away from where they are sitting. 

Keyboard 

  • The mouse and keyboard should be positioned close together and in front of your child. 
  • When using a desktop computer centre the letters on the keyboard in front of your child, not the entire keyboard. 
  • Place the keyboard in a position where their shoulders and arms are relaxed, and their forearms are resting on the desk. 

Furniture and equipment 

  • Use a chair with good lumbar support. A pillow or rolledup towel placed behind their lower backs also works well. 
  • The edge of the chair seat should not compress the backs of your child’s knees. 
  • Their thighs should be supported and parallel to the floor.
  • Make sure your child is working on a stable surface. 
  • Their elbows should be at the same height as the desk. 
  • Their feet should be flat on the floor. Make use of a footrest if the child is too short. A box or a storage crate will do nicely if you don’t have a footrest available. 

Items that the child uses most should be placed nearby so they don’t have to bend or twist their body or neck unnecessarily

Laptops 

  • Encourage children to set up their laptops in a way similar to that of desktop computers. Laptops should be used on tables and desks and never on the lap. Sitting on the floor or chilling out on the bed or couch is a definite no-no. 

iPads 

  • If children are using an iPad an angled book holder may help with proper positioning and help prevent having to look down for extended periods of timeDrag out the cookbook holder if need be. 

Glarefree screen 

  • Check that the computer screen is free from glare spots. You may have to reposition the screen or adjust the lighting in the room. 
  • Make sure your child avoids straining their eyes by taking frequent breaks. They can cover their eyes with their palms or look away from the screen. 

And lastly… 

Make sure your child takes a break and moves every 30 minutes

Here are ideas for some quick movement breaks: 

  • Stand and stretch arms overhead. Grasp hands, interlocking fingers, flip palms up to the ceiling and stretch. 
  • Bring arms behind your back at hip level, grasp hands and try to pull shoulder blades down and together. 
  • Stand with hands against the wall, place one leg back with knee straight and foot flat on the floor. Keep your body straight like a board, lean into the wall and stretch the back of the calf. Repeat on the other side. 
  • Stretch your neck from side to side. 
  • If you have a yoga ball, lie back over the ball with feet flat on the floor, raise your arms out to the sides like a “T” and take some deep breaths. 
  • Go outside and get some sunshine and a good dose of vitamin D, or simply jump up and down and shake those sillies out. 

Dr Tony Karpelowsky is a chiropractor who has treated babies and children for close to 20 years, He is passionate about his work and about paediatric spinal health. Tony completed a masters dissertation on chiropractic in the treatment of infantile colic. He is one of the founding members of Paediatric Chiropractic South Africa where he continues to function as an executive member. He has been invited to speak at various schools, conferences, antenatal courses, expos, and mom’s groups.Tony is also the founder of Dudes to Dads, a training workshop to teach new and expecting dads the information and practical tools needed to be a confident hands on father. Outside of practice, Tony loves family time with his wife and two incredible children.