Trying to get their attention? Stay and play their way… for a while
Have you ever met that child who shouts or runs the other direction the minute you sit down to join them in an activity?
In our field of ABA, we talk a lot about functions of behaviour; the idea that all behaviour is meaningful and serves a purpose. Well, what’s the purpose of play? We say it should be fun. Children engage in play because they like it; it’s automatically reinforcing or rewarding. So, it’s no surprise that if we see a child enjoying lining up their cars, and then we sit down to ‘show them what to do,’ that they go running the other direction. If we’re seen to interfere with the fun of an activity rather than add value, we’ve lost the opportunity to connect, and we’ve lost the opportunity to expand those play skills.
Child led intervention
We really like the Early Start Denver Model for developing play and social communication skills because of the emphasis on evidence-based teaching practices, but there are actually many approaches or models of intervention out there that recognize the importance of the relationship. And one of the common threads is beginning engagement through child-led activities. When it comes to play and communication, children engage and learn better when motivated and having fun. And the measure of success can’t be simply whether a child is using a toy as intended. We need to also be looking at affect (e.g. smiles and giggles), and approach or initiation. We’re not happy until the child is staying with us, smiling, looking for more, and inviting us to participate.
So what do we say to joining a child in unconventional play? We say ‘stay and play their way……. for a while.’ When trying to establish that relationship and build motivation for a child to seek you out, join them for a while. This is of course assuming the child’s actions are not destructive or harmful.
What can I do to engage my child?
For those of you who may be struggling to engage with a child or get their attention, your task is to:
- Observe– When you see the child playing, sit down with no expectation and just comment or add sound effects. Get silly and let them know you’re there.
- Give freely – Once the child is tolerating your approach, try to find ways to help the child. Take advantage of opportunities to hand the next piece, or fix items that fall out of place.
- Take some turns – The next step would be to begin to embed yourself into the play routine. Begin to take some turns yourself, but be sure that it still doesn’t yet interfere with their agenda and isn’t perceived as demand or you taking over.
Now, once they’re happy for you to stay and play their way, we have the foundation for building loads of critical play, interaction, and communication skills. Be sure to visit this blog section for periodically for follow-up posts to learn how. If you are interested in getting more support with engaging your little one, click here to join our upcoming Development Learning Group. If you’ve missed this group why not send us an email and we can put you on our wait list for the next group. This will be running on Wednesdays at 11am.