Child psychiatrist Stanley I. Greenspan, a major contributor in the field of prevention and treatment of emotional and developmental disorders in infants and children, died on April 27. As a tribute to his decades of work, and on the 20th anniversary of this column, I'm encouraging young parents to recognize: Every glance, every smile and every touch builds your baby's sense of who she is. What makes her calm? What makes her cry? You've got to learn to read your baby.
Greenspan's most influential work is known as "the Floortime Model" and is explored in his many workshops and books, including "Engaging Autism: Helping Children Relate, Communicate and Think with the DIR Floortime Approach" (Lifelong Books, $18, 2009). His advice includes: Interact with your child for short stretches of time of about 20 minutes, without distractions, several times a day, what he called "floortime." And don't worry: You cannot spoil your child by spending too much time with her. Instead, you'll build his brain and the foundations for future learning.
As part of the approach:
--Find enjoyable ways to involve your child's senses and movement at the same time.
--Interact with your baby; do not just stimulate him with exciting toys.
--Be there. Don't leave him to gaze at the world on his own for long stretches of time.
--It's crucial, Greenspan has said, for parents to become aware of "a baby's sensory profile."
--What sights, sounds, touches and movements bring your baby pleasure?
--Which senses keep your child calm and get his attention?
--Does he like firm or soft touch?
--Does he like soft or loud sounds? High or low voices? Slow or fast rhythms? The more answers you learn to instinctively read, the more able your child will be able to climb the developmental latter.
Now that you're enjoying floortime at home, head out to a park or playground. Greenspan has mapped out the park or playground trip for parents, within the context of six developmental stages of the "Floortime model."
--First, understand your child's individual sensory and motor profile. For your child to be able to interact with you and/or other children in the playground, she needs first to be regulated and interested in the surrounding environment, Carefully observe which sensations, like movement, for example, help your child become calm and regulated and which ones overwhelm her, like loud noises. What gets your child's attention and helps her focus? Is the playground too loud and she prefers a calm park?
--Second: Help your child engage with you by following his lead and interests. Entice him into engaging with you around these interests. Have fun with him as you join him in the activities he wants to do. If he likes to swing, you can stand in front of him and use gestures and/or sounds, like making different funny faces and sounds that he likes, soft or loud or squeaky or using different pitches as he comes toward you and then goes away from you on the swing.
--Third: Encourage two-way communication. Because the environments at a park or playground are new for you and your child, you may find it easier to be creative in encouraging your child to initiate communication and then keep the circles of communication going. While your child is on the swing, you might encourage her to indicate, with gestures or sounds/words, if she wants to go higher or lower, faster or slower, and challenge her to take the initiative.
--Fourth: Expand your interactions and create situations where you have to solve problems together. You can create a game where you and your child have to figure out how to get around obstacles, like having to go around you or between your legs, to get where he wants to go. In the park, you can go hide behind a favorite tree and encourage your child to come find you or work together to figure out how to get to the other side of the lake.
--Fifth: Encourage imagination and meaningful use of language. As your child begins to use ideas and do some pretend play, a jungle gym can become a pirate ship or zoo with different "jungle" animals. A swing can become a spaceship or a sailing ship gliding through a sea of clouds.
--Sixth: Help your child think logically. For the verbal child, a park or playground offers many opportunities to ask and answer the "W" questions, such as if your child indicates that he wants to go to the slide, you could ask, "Where is it? I don't see it?" If your child can't answer "Why" questions yet, you can give him a choice: a good choice first and a silly choice second so he can't just repeat the last thing you said.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, N.C., is a mother and teaches preschool. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.