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What is this behavior trying to communicate to me?

Author: Stephanie Peters OTR/L, DIRFloortime Expert Training Leader and Sari Levin MsED, Advanced DIRFloortime Certification
What is this behavior trying to communicate to me?

When we take our child’s “behavior” and decode it, we can find that our child was trying to tell us something. In DIRFloortime, we look at behavior as a form of communication. We, the caregivers, need to be the ones to try and understand what our child is so eagerly trying to tell us.

“We need to take a less narrow look at our children’s problems and instead, see them as windows of opportunity- a way of exploring and understanding all facets of our children’s development. If we can understand the underlying developmental process, we can see a child’s struggles as signs of striving towards growth, instead of chronic problems or attempts to aggravate adults.” Dr. Stanley Greenspan

Challenging behaviors can include meltdowns, tantrums, self-absorbed behavior, self-stimulatory behavior, or throwing and hitting. Rather than requiring correction, all of these actions are the child’s way of indicating that something is not correct. They seek connection and an understanding of the behavior, so the caregiver can correctly address it.

A goal in DIR/Floortime is to pick up on the subtle cues that begin to indicate a child’s needs before the big meltdown begins. These cues may be standing on one’s tiptoes or wincing away from something startling or loud. It may look as small as a visual gaze towards an item that is wanted. With this model, we work towards acting on these small cues that indicate a more significant need. We use the relationship and connection to begin a “conversation” with our children about what they or their bodily cues are telling us.

A child will often show one of these behaviors as a last effort to get a need met when they have no leftover energy to think of a clearer way to do so. A child’s energy level depends on how much energy they need to process the world around them. The more we attune to a child’s individual differences, the more we can reduce their stress and simplify seemingly complex things. The child will then be more available to try other means of communication. DIR/Floortime works to understand a child’s differences, and attune to their way of interacting with the world in order to support trying new ways to meet a need.

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