In any important relationship, it is helpful to understand the other person from his point of view—not yours. This is as true with an infant as an adult. If you think about your child’s personality and needs, you can create an environment that allows her to grow into her best self. It’s quite challenging forming deep, new relationships, and it takes time and works whether they are with colleagues, romantic partners, or small children.
Using Floor Time
One of the most effective ways to learn see the world from your child’s point of view—and to form a warm bond—is to participate in regular “floor time” together.
For at least fifteen minutes a day, or a bit longer or more often if possible, you may want to get onto the floor with your child and allow the child to direct the activities. Your role is as a participant, enricher, and observer. Resist the urge to take over or be the boss. This is time for your child to tell you what she wants to do; what interests her; what she feels.
The technique was originated by Stanley L. Greenspan, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences, and Pediatrics of Georgetown University Medical School, and former director of the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Infant Development Program. “Floor time is a warm and intimate way of relating to a child,” he says. “It means engaging, respecting and getting in tune with the child in order to help the child express through gestures, words, and pretend play what is on the child’s mind. This enhances the child’s self-esteem and ability to be assertive, and gives the child a feeling that ‘I can have an impact on the world.’ As you support the child’s play, the child benefits from experiencing a sense of warmth, connectedness and being understood.”“Floor time…enhances the child’s self-esteem and ability to be assertive, and gives the child a feeling that ‘I can have an impact on the world’.”
- Find a comfortable spot for both of you, perhaps on a blanket, and seed it with your child’s favorite toys, books, and objects. Place the child in the center of the space and get down on your stomach or sit facing the child. Get child-sized.
- Follow your child’s lead and join in whatever she is doing. Respond to what your child does as if it were intentional and full of meaning. Help your child do what she wants to do. Don’t take over, but be a cheerful, accommodating assistant.
- Once you let your child set the agenda and direct the activities, you might expand on the activities by expressing your support of her and stimulate her brain to understand the connection between her thoughts and her actions. (“That’s a good girl. Are you rolling the ball to me?”) The narration of activities helps your child learn how to express her own ideas and to define what she is doing for herself. But you want to be careful about how you ask questions. The phrase, “Why are you making such a mess?” is critical and unproductive. “Isn’t it fun to see how far you can throw the ball?” is constructive and shows the child you understand that her actions have a positive meaning. Try not to interrupt any activity; make it interactive.
- Give your preverbal child a chance to answer you when you ask questions or make comments. Let her make noises, gestures, and expressions. Observe them and then respond to their messages. Remember, the child is in the driver’s seat.
If your child resists your participation, don’t withdraw, simply take a few seconds to see what develops and then reengage your child in play. Floor time is important because it allows your child to express herself and her interests to you, the parent. In the process, it gives you the opportunity to learn about the child and the child time to learn about herself. The interaction also sets the stage for negotiations between child and parent in times when your child wants one thing and you have a different view or agenda. Negotiation can and should take place, and what you learn about each other when your child is young will give you a firm basis for a mutually respectful relationship during the years to come.