Kids and Floor Time

Where a little can go a long way

Posted Feb 28, 2012

Six-year-old Andy and his father Tom are always getting into it. From the time Tom hits the door after work, it's one thing after another with Andy—he teases his sister, he has be told 10 times to pick up his toy, and there is always has drama about going to bed. Tom yells, Andy whines, sulks or slams something night after night.

This pattern is not all that unusual. Both father and son are caught in a negative loop, or to put it another way, Andy has learned how to get negative attention from his father. In a child's world, negative is better than none at all. But obviously this isn't good for either of them. Tom sees Andy as stubborn and always misbehaving, while Andy sees his dad as always mean and on his case.

They need to break this negative cycle. Obviously Tom needs to pick up on the positive and not just the negative, however small those positives may be. But another powerful tool in the parental arsenal is Floor Time. Initially developed by the late Stanley Greenspan, M.D., as part of his work with autistic children, his research found that it not only helps children with those disabilities, but also all kids of all ages. Basically it goes like this:

1. Set aside about 30 minutes everyday for 1:1 time with your child.
2. Let your child be in charge of what you do together during that time and follow his lead—he's the boss!
3. Don't make the time conditional—never cancel it, for example, as punishment for bad behavior.
4. Be involved—interact with your child, enjoy the time together and avoid distractions during the time.

Can this make a difference? Absolutely! For Andy and Tom it replaces the negative attention with positive attention. Andy, rather than being constantly told what to do, has the opportunity to be charge for a change, which is empowering. Tom gets to see another side of Andy, helping him shake his own that "no-good-kid" mindset. Together they build up some positive memories to replace the negative ones. And finally, Tom may be surprised to hear Andy during these times actually open up to him and tell him about his childhood questions and worries.

Is it going to be a bit awkward at first? Sure. But if Tom can resist correcting and controlling and follow Andy lead, they will both quickly get into the rhythm of it and look forward to the time together.

And obviously this doesn't need to apply to only Andy—if there are other children in the home, the parents can give them some floor time as well.

Here's where relatively small changes can lead to big results.