FLOOR TIME: Promoting the Expression of Feelings and Ideas

If you’ve been following my floor time blogs, your child should now be able to show personal interest and attention during your play sessions, and demonstrate the ability to communicate in ways that are connected to reality and make sense. Perhaps he or she can ask simple questions, make requests, and uses nearly fifteen to thirty different words correctly. Once these goals have been accomplished, your son or daughter can move to the next goal of floor time, which is the ability to express feelings and ideas.

This blog is the fourth in a series about being your child’s own personal play therapist. If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here.

It’s common for children with special needs to become mechanical and depend upon memorization or rote skills to express themselves. They often enjoy the same games or stimulating behaviors over and over. Perhaps they can give another person their attention and even communicate, but a child who cannot express feelings or comprehend the feelings of others will have great limitations in life. Connecting feelings to their experiences is a crucial developmental step in the ability to have and maintain relationships of every kind. And relating to other people is a vital human need, affecting our work, social life, and our general happiness and fulfillment.

In your 20-30 minute play sessions, while still following your child’s lead as much as possible, you are now going to make a concerted effort to attach simple feelings verbally to everything you can. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Start with the most basic emotion: want. Attach the word want to anything your child requests. “Want juice? Anna wants juice.” Show a differentiation. “Mommy wants water. Dolly wants milk.” This basic adjustment of adding the word “want,” will help your child to understand her own intentions, and the intentions of others. Each time she reaches for a book, say, “Want book.” This small amount of learning will have deep emotional meaning. Before introducing other feeling labels, have many floor time sessions focusing on the word “want.”
  2. Gradually attach labels to feelings for your child. If she stomps her foot during floor time, say, “You’re angry. You want that book.” If he smiles say, “Brendon is smiling. The book makes you happy.” If she lays down on the floor with her blanket, say, “Now Jenny is tired. Oh, tired Jenny.”
  3. Use pretend play during floor time. In previous sessions, perhaps you have participated with your child in his or her unusual repetitive behaviors, giving some meaning to the activities. Now you will want to bring an element of imagination into play. If your child rolls a cloth in his hands, you are going to say, “Oh goody! We’re washing our hands for dinner! I’m HUNGRY!” Set plates and cups on the table. “My turn to wash hands!” For more examples, see my blog, “Pretend with your child and improve his future.”
  4. Introduce dramatic conflicts which involve feelings. You can do this by using dolls or stuffed animals and project feelings on them. “Baby bunny is tired, too.” Or, “Dolly is sad. Dolly can’t find her shoes.” You can interrupt the flow of play and present emotional problems. “Oh no! The bus driver can’t find a place to park. He is mad. Mad, mad, bus driver.” Even speak for the character as you pretend, like giving a voice to the bus driver in this example. “I am mad! Move out of my way, cars! I need to get past you! I’m stuck! That makes me mad!” It would be especially helpful to imitate the feelings your child regularly experiences. If she often pounds on the table at meal time, use a doll to imitate this behavior and give it a feeling label. “I don’t want carrots! I don’t like them! No! No! No! I am mad, mommy!”
  5. Draw your child into the drama by making him a character in the drama. For example, you could use a toy horse and make it talk to your child. “I’m scared! I can’t find my mommy! Can you help me?” Or use a stuffed animal and say, “I want the ball and I’m not giving it back! I don’t want to share!” Use facial expressions that represent the feelings you’re enacting. Watch for reactions from your child and continue to label feelings in a clear, simple way.
  6. Move slowly into more complex dramas in the play, using various emotions and feelings.
  7. Ask “why,” questions. “Why do you want to go outside now?” Help your child verbalize the feelings: “I want to play! I want to play on the swings!” Ask, “Why the swings? How about the sand box?” Build upon even the smallest explanations your child attempts.

For more suggestions, see my blog: “Can your child put words to feelings?”

The next and final goal of floor time is: Promoting Logical Thinking.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.

Floor Time is an intervention model developed by by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and can be found in his wonderful book, The Child with Special Needs, by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., and Serena Wieder, Ph.D.