In Floortime we talk about meeting the child where they are Developmentally (“D”) and taking into account their unique sensory profile and Individual differences (“I”), all within a safe, warm, and nurturing Relationship (“R”). We then follow the child’s lead, challenge, and expand. Caregivers and new practitioners often struggle with the latter two. The key to challenging and expanding is using affect and being playful.

Inspiring Initiative

In Dr. Stanley Greenspan‘s document, Initiative: A Floortime Essential for Children’s Emotional and Intellectual Growth, he discusses this topic in great depth. He says that initiative is such an important piece of Floortime because initiative “sustains interactions and helps a child feel secure and confident. Most importantly, it enables a child to exercise influence in relationships and over his or her environment leading not only to better self-regulation, but to higher levels of interaction and thinking.

But in Dr. Greenspan’s experience, too often in Floortime “the caregivers are taking most of the initiative and the child is reacting rather than initiating.” They tend to say that they will lose the child’s engagement if they don’t take the initiative. This is where challenging and expanding come into play. It’s how we playfully and respectfully entice a child to take initiative, and the key is playfully and respectfully, always.

Recall that the goal in Floortime is to get a continuous back-and-forth flow of interactions. This capacity to have these continuous circles of communication is a pre-requisite for humans to move into social problem-solving, symbolic and logical thinking which are capacities that prepare us for higher learning–namely, academics, and for participating in the world which is a social place.

How? Challenge and Expand

We’ve discussed many times before how we move up the developmental ladder to a continuous flow of interaction, and how challenging and expanding are a part of that interaction. Whether it be slowing down and stretching out the interactions, being playfully obstructive or feigning ignorance, or applying process-oriented learning, we can respectfully connect with our children and motivate them to willingly interact with us.

The most essential principle in fostering a child’s initiative is the following: Respect everything the child does or says, including self-stimulatory, perseverative patterns. The only exceptions are behaviors that can hurt the child or others or that are disruptive in a particular setting. Treat everything the child initiates, even seemingly aimless wandering, as a creative act deserving of your engagement and interaction. Use the child’s “initiatives” to create opportunities for more initiatives through your enticing, playful, loving, and respectful interactions with him or her.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan

Why challenge and expand?

It’s a job of parents to help their children develop and grow. All human beings need to be put out of their comfort zone or you go stagnant. No one knows what they can do until they are pushed to do it. In the case of Floortime, we have the wonderful practice of giving our children new opportunities in the safety and comfort of our own home rather than in the stress of the real world, in the moment. That’s the whole point!

By challenging, we’re not talking about making your child go to tears, but having them experience a tiny bit of frustration, around something they are motivated to do, or in the best case scenario in fun play that you masque as a challenge by making it fun and motivate the child to do. You are taking something that would normally frustrate or challenge them and making it something they want to do and be a part of, so when they are challenged in real life they don’t shut down.

It’s About Play

As we discussed before, play is essential to healthy emotional development because it is through play that we can experiment with and work through our emotions. We can’t work through our emotions, however, if we are stuck in anxiety and frustration, which so many of our kids are so often, due to their sensory challenges and challenges connecting with others. By continually making the effort to connect and play with our children, we can help our children with their emotional development.

Every single mammal on this planet learns through play. It’s one of the highest signifiers of intelligence and adaptation. It’s so important to play with your kids. In Floortime we are mobilizing something that’s already useful and making it extremely effective. Floortime is just a natural extension of how you should be with your child anyways. You grow and build on what you know through play with the safety of your parents. There’s nothing better than that!

And how you do it is what you and your child are comfortable with. It’s the beauty of doing Floortime as a parent. You don’t want to upset your child or deceive them. Feigning ignorance is not deceiving your child. It’s being silly like a funny Dad joke is. You do it in a way that is playful. If a child says, “I want that bandana from your head!” the Dad joke is, “You want a BANANA?!” My father-in-law is king at this silliness. It is not deceitful in the least. You’re using their motivation to push them a little further, like a good parent can.

Today’s blog was such a brief overview but the links to past blogs supplement the rich content of the importance of challenge and expansion of interactions with our children to promote relating, communicating and thinking in Floortime. If you found it helpful please consider sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter and/or offer comments below.

Note: See you back in two weeks as the summer schedule will have new posts every other week.

Until next time, here’s to affecting autism!

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