Floortime Tips

Playing with colorful blocks

Developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, founder of DIR/Floortime and author of many respected parenting books, Floortime offers parents a system of play to encourage language development, social skills, emotion regulation and leadership abilities. Seen as beneficial to all children, this approach to play is often incorporated into therapies for children with speech and language delays, and social and developmental concerns. Below are a few tips to get started and a link to helpful online workshops.

  • By design, the child is in charge- They are the director, you are the assistant. They decide the topic, place and pace of the play. Your job is to stay engaged and support the play.
  • Stay on topic- All of your questions and comments should be about the ongoing activity. Avoid introducing new ideas or taking the play in new directions. While this sounds easy, it really forces many parents to slow down. The goal is to comment or question in ways that continue the play or encourage the child to think deeper about current activity without moving them off it. You might ask open ended questions like, “what’s happening?” or, “how did you think of that?” You might describe their play or comment on the details.
  • Play at their pace- If the child is often running and dumping things, and you are often trying to slow them down, for these 20 minutes you are running and dumping. The message is – how you play is spot on for you.
  • There is no correction, no education- It is play. If the child decides the dog is a cow, it’s a cow while playing farm. Just go with it. Yes, you can go back later and read your farm books, but, for the time being, play.
  • The goal is 20 minutes per day- Put this on the calendar, set aside the time. This is a stretch that you turn of the tv and put down the phone. Floortime requires you be fully engaged and attentive.

There are many online resources that include and teach about Floortime. For online workshops designed for parents and professionals, visit http://www.thefloortimecenter.com/,   http://stanleygreenspan.com/.

Other helpful links include http://www.mindspring.com/~dgn/playther.htm and http://www.cms-kids.com/providers/early_steps/training/documents/floor_time.pdf.

Blended Families and Re-Building Relationships

Hi Dr. Rene,
We are a blended family and have been for more than five years. One of my step children has suddenly decided they dislike me, and will avoid eye contact or any type of interaction with me if possible. I am getting sighs and dirty looks for doing something as simple as saying good morning. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no changes or incidences to cause this sudden change in behavior. Before this started we were very close, got along well and spent regular time together doing activities we both enjoyed. My husband and I have tried talking to the child about the behavior; that seems to help for a day or two. We’ve tried ignoring the behavior; which seems to make it escalate. We are at the point of wanting to enforce some sort of discipline for being disrespectful and rude. I’m not sure if this will help or hurt the situation, but things cannot continue this way, the behavior is affecting the entire family. Any advice would be welcomed.  Thank you!



Dear Michelle,

I am sure this is upsetting, but I would avoid discipline, at least at the emotion. First, I would try to look at the emotion behind the behavior and address that. While you may be unaware of any change, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. It may have been a piece of a passing conversation, a new understanding of an old problem as they mature or a sense of slight from his other parent. It may be impossible to find the cause, even the child may be unable to pin point it, but clearly there is upset. I would go out of my way to validate the difficult emotions when there is a behavior. When child rolls eyes, this sounds like, “I get you are frustrated with me, you don’t like what I just asked you to do.” Without lecturing, this can be followed by a simple, “and I need you to do it now.” The idea is to validate the emotion, but follow through with the behavior. It is a narrow road, but if you move forward with discipline, it is along these lines. Validate the emotions and discipline the related behaviors. In the moment this would be starting with, “I see you are grumpy this morning, I will try again later,” or, “I know you are frustratted, let’s go back and try that again.” You might also coach how the child can better display emotion. Rather than a dirty look to a “good morning,” coach that they can say, “I’m not awake yet.” This coaching is best out of the moment, when all is well.

In all this coaching, avoid putting pressure on the individual relationship. Rather than saying, “you and I are family, and you will treat me with respect,” go more global, “that is an unfriendly way to say good morning, it would be nicer to say…” Focus on coaching how to speak to people in general, how to be kind and how to carry conversation rather than pressuring the relationship.

I would also make every effort to have child spend individual time connecting with each parent. There’s no need to make an announcement, but think at least weekly each of you are spending a bit of time. This can be a trip to the grocery store if you are focused on conversation and spending the time together. You might also read about and practice Greenspan’s Talk Time as presented in Playground Politics. This is a book about social and emotional development through the grade school years, and it highlights the importance of children having open talk time as they move out of Floortime. It’s an interesting way to open up conversations and emotions.

If you decide to go more specific at the discipline, I would initially make it a whole family effort. Sit and talk with everyone about how you are going to make an effort to be kinder and gentler with each other in communicating even when people are upset. Make it an effort in your marriage and in the parent-child relationships. If there are consequences for negative tones and words, this goes for all. Likely more successful here is, it is a global effort rather than a narrow focus. I would look to discipline more specifically only if all this fails. I hope this helps!


Dr. Rene


The topic in our morning Play & Workshop last week was Floortime. Moving forward I am going to post the highlights from each topic weekly. So here goes…

Floortime is an approach to play developed by Stanley Greenspan MD. If you haven’t heard of him he is a child psychiatrist who is big in the field of parenting and specializes in social and emotional development issues. The Floortime training kit was published in 1990 and is still widely used.

Greenspan stresses the benefits of floortime to a child’s vocabulary, interactive play, creative play and rates of aggression. The kit also discusses the importance of play from birth to six years old. It describes the impact of play on academic readiness, social and emotional exchange, language development and communication of ideas. It is important to know that play is bigger than play, when supported it is a strong foundation for academic and social success.

Parent Guidelines

  • Aim for 20 minutes a day per child. This is an uninterrupted 20 minutes that you are focused and following the play. Avoid checking on dinner and answering the phone.
  • During this time the child is the leader, you are the follower. You assist but never lead the play.
  • You move and play at their pace.
  • There is no discipline. There is no education. This really is play for the sake of play. The only rules are no hurting or breaking things, and then, likely, you just end the floortime.
  • All of your comments and questions should be to focus and build on their current activity. Expand without changing directions. Take a real interest.
  • Enter in the least intrusive way possible.
  • The hardest part for most parents is slowing down.
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