What is the “R” in DIR and why does it matter so much?

What is the “R” in DIR and why does it matter so much?

The “R” in DIR is for Relationships. This is an area that sometimes gets overlooked or undervalued in child development, education and in the therapeutic process. However, for all of us, positive, warm, nurturing relationships are essential for well being. Humans are wired to connect and we have a built in desire to be close to other people. In fact research shows that people with positive relationships and strong social support systems live longer, healthier and happier lives! If you’d like to read more about this, check out this article about the research from Harvard University: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/

The most important relationship in your child’s life is you! 

Protective, stable and supportive relationships are essential from beginning of life, so of course a child’s relationships with their parents/caregivers are the most important ones. It’s through their relationship with you that your child first learns how to regulate and communicate. As a baby your child responded to your touch, facial expressions and tone of voice. They learned how to become calm when upset, how to share joy and pleasure and how to communicate their wants and needs. It’s through the relationship with you that your child develops the sense of who they are and who you are as a separate person to them.

What can you do to support healthy relationships for your child?

As a parent you are key in helping your child develop strong and healthy relationships. The safety and warmth your child feels when they are with you provides the foundation for them to build positive relationships with others throughout their life. How do you do this? You’re probably already doing it! It may sound simplistic, but just “being” with your child is incredibly powerful. Take time to watch your child, to wonder about what they’re doing and why they might be doing it. Let them know that you are interested in what interests or motivates them. The basis of any relationship is trust, so being consistent in how you interact really helps. This means that taking care of yourself is really important. It’s hard to be consistent if you’re stressed or exhausted, so looking after yourself so that you can be regulated is beneficial for your child!

Why are relationships important in therapy?

It’s through relationships that a child learns about themselves and others. By reading cues such as body language, facial expression, gestures and tone of voice a child learns to understand emotions and the meanings or intentions of others. They also learn to interpret how other people respond to them and to adjust what they are doing accordingly. For example, from a young age a child can read their parent’s cues of approval/disapproval to know whether or not to continue on with something they are doing. 

This is why at Play for Real we believe so strongly that relationships are an essential part of therapy. It’s important to us that your child is supported to be the unique individual that they are. By learning about themselves they engage in activities and interact with others in a way that is meaningful to them, and not only to comply with what an adult wants or to get an extrinsic reward.

Because every adult and every child is different, some relationships develop more easily than others. Sometimes there’s a mismatch, for example a parent who is naturally loud and energetic may have a child who is sensitive to sounds or to movement. The child may find the parent’s interaction style to be overwhelming and either become upset or withdraw. The parent may be left feeling that their child doesn’t want to be with them. An important part of the therapeutic process is to help you, the parent, to understand your own individual profile as well as your child’s so that you can adapt your interaction style to best support the relationship between the two of you.

Next Time: 

At Play for Real we use Floortime as our therapeutic approach. In the next blog I’ll give an overview of Floortime and talk about why we love it so much!

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