By: 7 March 2024
Hands on following Covid – A practitioner’s approach

Author and practitioner of childhood development, Peter Walker, discusses the challenges and transitions of working alongside parents following Covid-19.

As an author and teacher of baby massage, and a yoga practitioner over fifty years, I have had the privilege of contributing free baby massage teachings in health centers across the UK. The essence of my work is providing support to parents and caregivers in the realm of early childhood locomotor development.

I specialise in early intervention for babies with developmental disabilities like Cerebral Palsy. Proactive parental support in this period of heightened neuroplasticity can mitigate the risk of permanent adverse pathways.

Given that my work relies heavily on physical interaction, the emergence of Covid-19 posed significant challenges to conducting face-to-face sessions with mothers and children, as well as my Teacher Training groups. Adapting to the constraints imposed by the pandemic entailed a considerable transition from in-person engagements to virtual platforms.

However, this transition yielded some unexpected results, which have completely changed my approach as a practitioner. Much of my work with child disability is now close up on zoom in the home, encouraging parents to acquaint themselves more fully with their child’s motor milestones, and the benefits of knowing these milestones and their progressive order of achievement.

All children’s motor milestone accomplishments develop in much the same way. Neural pathways are cultivated relying on parental interaction for practice and free play within the confines of a safe environment.

Consistent practice is an essential ingredient, especially for babies diagnosed with fine or gross motor disabilities. This, combined with early intervention to facilitate the adaptation of the developing brain, and circumvent the formation of adverse neural pathways and weight gain, can significantly reduce the challenges in preventing and mitigating potential disabilities.

Unlike most babies and children who achieve their motor milestones from birth to standing and walking relatively easily, infants with obvious or potential disabilities – such as Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Prader Willi – need to begin to practice their milestones earlier, far more regularly and in the right order.

Just how early and how much more, depends upon the severity of the child’s prognosis or disability but, following the same milestones – mostly in the same order as other children, and using tiny steps and with far more practice – can be highly effective.

Which brings me back to the advantages afforded to an online practice as an infant physical therapist and Developmental Baby Massage teacher.

Online interaction allows me to conduct sessions in the most comfortable and convenient environment for the child, typically their own home, at a time that suits both the mother and the child, thereby eliminating the stress of travel and its associated challenges.

This is hugely advantageous to fostering more parental involvement as online appointments are unaffected by weather conditions; they are more consistent and provide a far more favourable beginning to our sessions.

An online practice also enables closer observation. Follow-up appointments can be brief, when needed to ensure that the demonstrated practices are being implemented correctly before attempting to move forward.

A crucial distinction that has a significant effect upon a successful outcome is that the parent has to practice what is shown, ‘with the child’, and be attentive to the child’s responses. You cannot do this ‘to the child’, and especially not to babies and children who cannot express resistance in conventional ways like saying ‘No’ or ‘Stop’.

In striving to counteract the impacts of stiffness and contractures, it’s imperative for the muscles to relax, to enable the child to practice the desired movements effectively. However, relaxation cannot be forced it has to be ‘nurtured’ and this is something that can only be encouraged with what I’ve termed ’therapeutic play’.

When practiced in this way, my approach acknowledges and gives more room for the child’s emotional responses and it is here that the parents’ love serves as a major healing force.

Our muscles are organs of motion and emotion: every contraction has a corresponding emotion, and every emotion elicits a corresponding muscular response of either tension or relaxation.

Hence, my maxim: relax the belly and you relax the child. For this, therapeutic play is vital. It keeps the child’s tummy relaxed when we are trying to elicit change. Tummy time facilitates the descent of the diaphragm and promotes a deeper exhalation which, in turn, enables muscular and neural change.

Advancements in neuroscience affirm the remarkable resilience of a child’s developing brain, offering hope for reorganization and recovery even in the face of challenge. Experts now highlight the unparalleled plasticity of the child’s brain, and early targeted intervention can harness this plasticity for optimal outcomes.

Recent research confirms the reality of the young child’s brain plasticity and its remarkable ability to adapt. The developing brain of a growing child possesses remarkable mechanisms for compensating for the loss of essential brain areas. It holds significant potential for reorganization and recovery, allowing for the discovery of innovative solutions amidst dynamic changes.

According to Professor Marlene Behrmann at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and Dr Steven Wolf, an associate professor of neurology and paediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City,

“Early intervention is the key as the child’s brain has far more potential for plasticity and is far more malleable than that of any adult.”

Empowering parents to play a part in their child’s recovery can elicit a change from negative to positive in the dynamics of their relationship with the child and the family.

In essence, my work embodies the belief in the inherent adaptability of the human brain and the profound impact of early intervention, underscoring the importance of nurturing each child’s unique potential through informed, compassionate care.


Note, in this article, the term mothers include fathers, partners and carers.

About Peter Walker:

As an author, teacher, and Yoga practitioner, I have had the privilege of contributing to various spheres, including the origination of free baby massage teachings in health centres across the UK. With numerous published works to my name and a wealth of experience spanning well over four decades.

New book ‘Your Resilient Child’ available on the shop;

Online appointments: email