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Seize the Opportunity to Stand Beside the Parent

Why do we always sit on the floor?shutterstock_102466817

You know, when you think about it, it’s a really good question. Adults plopping on the floor in strangers’ homes is not normal. However, sitting on the floor to play with young children is pretty normal for folks who specialize in early childhood. Being on the floor allows us to be at the child’s eye level, giving us easy access to the child and the child equal access to us. Here’s the kicker, though – if we are providing family-centered intervention, shouldn’t we be sitting where the family sits when we aren’t there?

Think about it – when you’re not in the home, do you ever wonder how often families really “get down on the floor” with their children. Maybe the real question is this: Do families really need to sit on the floor to positively impact their children’s development? What do you believe?

What I Believe

I believe that floor play is only one of the many ways that families interact. In reality, there are some families who love to play together with toys, crawling around on the floor playing hide-and-seek or chasing balls. There are other families who think that toys are for the children to play with, that adults don’t do that. In the middle somewhere are families who play with their children on their laps or when the child brings a toy to them while they’re sitting on the couch. What ALL of these families do, though, is take care of their children – change diapers, feed them, dress and bathe them, calm them when they cry, and take them places. These caregiving routines are important and probably happen much more frequently than toy play on the floor.

That doesn’t mean that floor play isn’t important – it definitely is because it offers lots of fun, stimulating learning opportunities for the child. It can also offer a great way for the parent and child to interact and enjoy each other – if it’s something the parent does or is interested in doing. The key here is that floor play is only one of the MANY activities that families do with their infants and toddlers. If we really want to be effective as early interventionists, then it makes sense that we think about toy play on the floor as just one of our many options to explore with families – not necessarily the “thing” we do at every visit.

If Not Playing on the Floor, then What Else Do We Do?

I’m not advocating that you abandon toy play or never plop on the floor again because that’s not realistic or even necessary. I encourage you to broaden your perspective on what you can do during visits. A recent study found that we are great at toy play, but when it comes to intervention in other routines, we tend to just talk about them rather than joining them. We talk about what’s going wrong with getting the baby into in his car seat, rather than walking out to the car to observe and problem-solve in the moment. We talk about how the child loves to play with his siblings in the afternoon but we never change our schedule to join that special time.

We know that adults learn best when they have the opportunity to practice, problem-solve, and plan in real time. When you can coach a parent through a problematic routine or during a special family activity, that’s when the magic happens and families become more able to use intervention strategies with less stress. When we get off the floor, join caregiving routines, and help parents find ways to be playful and supportive during real activities, we’ve provided meaningful intervention that they’re more likely to feel confident using when we aren’t there.

Here are a few tips for making all of this happen:

Seize the opportunity to stand beside the parent – When the parent mentions a different routine, don’t just talk about it. Ask if she will show it to you. Stand beside her and collaborate in that moment. Use your coaching skills and work together to come up strategies that really matter.

Focus on parent-child interactions instead of toy play – It’s a big shift for some of us. Wrapping your brain around supporting parent-child interactions, with you playing a background role, is very different from arriving at the home to teach the child. Toy play might still be a way to motivate the child, and it might still be fun for the parent too, but remember that it’s just one piece of the pie. Focus your energy on building playful and supportive interactions across a variety of routines, whenever possible.

Pause…before you sit – When you walk into the home, it might be your reflex to greet the family then sit down on the floor. It certainly was mine when I started a visit. Instead, pause before you kick off your shoes. Ask the parent what she would like to do today. Offer other ideas. Ask what she would be doing right now if you weren’t there – then ask if you can do that. Even if you end up on the floor, taking that moment to pause, think and behave differently will help you ease into a more broad way of thinking about your role during the intervention visit.

Broadening your perspective really begins with how you think about your purpose and what you do during visits. You set the tone for how each visit works. You don’t have to sit on the floor to provide good intervention. It’s not the main place where children learn and it’s not the only place where parents and children interact. It’s just one of many activities during which you could really make a difference.

Do you have a good example of intervention that DIDN’T occur while sitting on the floor? What are your thoughts about why we rely on floor play?

Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!

 

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10 Comments to “Seize the Opportunity to Stand Beside the Parent”

  1. I had a family that always wanted to eat breakfast at McDonalds but the child wouldn’t eat or stay seated. We went to mcdonalds for breakfast once a week, then started going every other week. It was great!

    • Sounds like a great time, Chris! I’m curious – what did you learn about why the child wouldn’t eat or stay seated? What was different at home vs. at McDonalds?

  2. The joint plan (from the last visit or two) can help make this part a little easier, I think. At least it’s a place to start —

    • Great point, Deana. Developing a joint plan that focuses on what families will do between visits certainly would help facilitate this movement from the floor to being beside the parent in family routines during visits. It can be so effective in providing a real-world context for intervention and there is nothing like having a plan to keep you focused!

  3. I’ve also caught myself staying in a room (sitting on the floor) with a child while a parent leaves “briefly” to get something or to use the restroom. Last week, I decided to also duck out of the room when the mom left so to observe how the child responded. Predictably, he followed Mom and we were then able to discuss and work through strategies to keep him occupied for a few minutes of independent play or find ways to engage him as a helper. If I had stayed in the room, he would have played quite nicely while his mom disappeared. It was great to catch a real moment!

    • You’ve added a really interesting twist on this topic, Nancy! I love it how you took advantage of what could have been an easily missed opportunity. It’s in these opportunities that we really get the golden opportunity to make a difference – and it sounds like you’re doing that! 🙂

  4. When I worked as a Family Support Worker, I did outside play and cooking activities with the family/child during visits. I have learned that you can teach and get a lot of skills into these activities. I have even gone on a grocery shopping trip with the family and child, the family was having difficulty shopping with their child and wanted input on how to resolve some of the issues. Rather than talk about strategies I went with the family and demonstrated/share some strategies with the family while they shopped. The parent was very appreciative and implement several of the strategies that I had demonstrated or use with their child.

    When I was a Itinerant teacher for the school district, instead of bringing a bag of activities or toys to the classrooms or home visit, I created a traveling lending library, I applied for a grant through Walmart and received a $1,000.00. I purchased a number of board boards, activities for families to use with their child birth to 5 years, relevant early childhood special books and resource books for parents and teachers, a Kindle and art/craft materials. I created a check out sheet, so I would bring this box of resources , etc. teachers and parents loved this idea, many parents were very good about returning and getting new things to do with their child. This was a way for parents in particular to support their child development, many of the parents lived in housing projects, low income and no transportation. Many of the parents did not have access to these resources.

    • Thanks for sharing your examples, Michelle. Yes, some of my most memorable visits involved going with families on errands and helping them problem-solve ways to meet their goals during those activities. Trips to the grocery store can offer so many learning opportunities. If we can help the parent improve a problematic routine, we’ll not only help them make things easier, but even more opportunities can become available for the child too. You took an important step – rather than just talking about the grocery store struggles, you joined them there. That’s how you really make a difference!

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