Over the years FLIP IT® has been used by teachers and parents from across the country. As they practiced using the strategy, they have run into unique situations and asked great questions. Here you will find 10 years’ worth of frequently asked questions and answers. Simply click on the “+” sign to see answers!
Is the FLIP IT strategy evidence-based?
Answer: A thorough review of the literature informed the development of the FLIP IT strategy, ensuring that each of the technique’s four steps is based on solid evidence of how to support children’s social and emotional development. Literature informing the feelings step shows that helping preschool children understand, label, and regulate their feelings and emotions is critical to their healthy development, including interacting and forming healthy relationships. (Saarni, C., 1990). With respect to limits, research shows that preschool children need to be provided with clear, firm, calm, appropriate, and consistent limits in order to reduce challenging behaviors and promote the use of acceptable alternatives (Kazdin, 1987). Inquiries have been shown to help children consider alternative solutions to conflicts, resulting in reductions of challenging behavior (Pettit, G.S. 1988). Lastly, with regard to prompts, teaching young children skills that can be used to replace challenging behaviors is one of the most effective evidence-based interventions available for these behaviors (Conroy, 2005).
In addition, FLIP IT has been studied as a four-step sequence and has been found to be an effective strategy for transforming challenging behavior. The most thorough evidence that currently supports FLIP IT’s four-step sequence comes from a study completed by Miami University. This study shows that FLIP IT can be an effective strategy for decreasing children’s behavior problems, anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and aggressive or delinquent behavior; and increasing children’s initiative, self-regulation, and attachment. Researchers found these positive outcomes to be substantial and long-lasting, even after conducting only one FLIP IT parent training session. Download the executive summary and/or full report to read more.
How do I get the child’s attention in order to begin the FLIP IT process?
Getting a child’s attention is truly the first step in any effort to communicate. With young children capturing their interest can often be done with some theatrics. Enthusiasm, changes in tone of voice (e.g., whispering), facial expressions and gestures can work to get a child’s attention. Interesting noises (e.g., bells) and visual props (e.g., puppets) are also useful. You may need to get closer to the child, get on her eye-level or gently touch her arm.
Should I start the FLIP IT process with a child who is out-of-control or having a tantrum?
It is best to wait for a child who is tantruming to calm down before engaging in a discussion, but sometimes if a child is out of control, the FEELINGS step can be soothing. Use a calm tone of voice and validate the child’s feelings (e.g., “You are so angry. I can see from your tight fists how angry you are feeling”). If talking to the child seems to escalate the behavior, wait until the child is able to hear you.
What if I don’t know what the child is feeling?
Try to describe what you are seeing and hearing from the child and guess what might be the underlying feeling (e.g.,”I see your face is getting red, and you are making growling sounds, I think you are feeling angry?”). The act of trying to empathize is just as important for the adult (sometimes more important) than correctly labeling the feeling. The child will feel noticed and see you are reaching out. Imagine during an exhausting day at work if your co-worker notices you dragging and rather than telling you to “smile” she says,” you look sad.” Even if she got your feeling wrong (you were not sad, you were tired), it means something to you that she cared. You can also simply ask, “What are you feeling?” or “What is happening inside you right now?” if the child has verbal skills.
What if the child is non-verbal or developmentally delayed?
All children deserve and benefit from having their emotions acknowledged. Even if a child can not respond, talk about feelings daily. It is very important to narrate children’s feelings and experiences. Keep talking, even if they cannot or do not respond. Use of pictures, books and toys that promote awareness of emotions can help both verbal and non-verbal children increase their “feelings vocabulary.” Some children may prefer to point to pictures rather than talk directly about their feelings.
What if I sound “fake” when I try to talk about feelings?
When you are getting started, have a lead-in phrase that will work in most situations like, “Wow, it looks like you are feeling_____?” Remember, less can be more. You don’t need to say much; just say it with kindness. Make your feelings statements suit your personal style (e.g.,, ”You are looking awfully mad.” OR “Girl, you look heated!” – both work!)
What if the child says, “NO - that is not what I’m feeling!” OR begins to mock me or pushes me away?
Let this rejection lead to an open discussion about feelings. At the very least, you tried, and in doing that you have conveyed compassion. Some children seem to prefer to be alone with their ICK, and they will try to push you away with even MORE negative behaviors. Don’t let them keep you away. No child should be alone with ICK for too long. KEEP ON TALKING ABOUT FEELINGS.
My natural instinct is to tell a child “NO.” How can I unlearn this habit?
Simply saying “NO”, especially during dangerous times, is normal. As long as you acknowledge feelings first, an occasional “NO” won’t hurt. Stick to a few positive simple rules that fit a variety of situations (e.g., “We use gentle touches.”)
What if I get to this step and realize a limit is not necessary?
If you acknowledge the child’s feelings, and you decide that a limit is NOT necessary, it is okay to skip Step 2 – LIMITS. There are situations where you notice what children are feeling and then realize that the manner in which they are coping is perfectly healthy or appropriate for their age or developmental needs.
Is there ever a time where I can do FEELINGS, INQUIRIES and PROMPTS (FIP) because a LIMIT is NOT necessary?
During a FLIP you may do the FEELINGS step only to realize that a LIMIT is not necessary, but if the child is engaging in unhealthy coping you may want to move toward problem-solving. For example, if a child says, “I am so stupid.” You may respond to FEELINGS by saying, “I can see you are feeling really frustrated by that puzzle.” There may not necessarily be a LIMIT for feeling sad about yourself, in which case you can skip LIMITS and move forward to INQUIRIES and PROMPTS so that the child learn better coping. Some FLIPPERS may choose to set a LIMIT like, “I can see you are feeling really frustrated by that puzzle, we say good things about ourselves.”
The sample responses in this guide do not use the word “but” when delivering a limits message, why?
It is very natural to say, “Yes, you are feeling angry, BUT we are friendly here.” Using the word “but” after a feelings statement negates the child’s feelings. Most limits statements can be delivered without taking away from the feelings statement, simply by leaving out the “but.” Instead say, “Yes, you are feeling angry, we are friendly here.”
What if the child is non-verbal or developmentally delayed?
All children need limits, but they should be appropriate to developmental levels and individual needs. What may be a limit for a child who is typically developing, may not be a limit for a child with autism. Keep in mind that even if a child cannot respond, it is important to talk about limits and expectations daily. You can narrate a child’s challenging experiences by talking about feelings as well as limits. Keep talking, even if a child can not or does not respond. The exercise of narrating often gives adults a better perspective on the situation and helps them see the challenges and the possibilities through the child’s eyes.
What if different adults have different rules?
When possible, share your positive, simple and loving limits with the other adults in the child’s life (teachers, family members, babysitters) and ask them to be your partners in consistency. When rules in different settings are contradictory and confusing to the child, discuss and agree on a compromise that is in the child’s best interest. Most children learn quickly how to distinguish between the expectations of different caregivers and environments. Be as consistent as YOU can be.
What do I do if I end up having different limits for different children based on their abilities, needs and ICK?
It is appropriate to have a set of “general” limits (guidelines) that you “generally” apply to multiple children, but it is also appropriate to individualize. Every child is unique and some may be better equipped to stay within our boundaries than others. For example, we may expect most children to attend circle time for 10 minutes, but for a child with Autism or a child with a lot of ICK we may only ask that they try to join circle for 2 minute before finding something quiet to do instead. Over the course of time we may choose to increase our expectation for that child and set new limits as the child grows and develops skills. Limits are like goals and we want to make sure to set achievable goals for each child. Adjusting limits based on abilities and needs is the fair thing to do, and fair does not mean everything must be equal. These adaptations teach children about diversity and tolerance and you will find that most children are far more accepting of these differences than you may expect.
What if the child gets really ANGRY when I give a limit?
Children will often become angry when a limit is set, because sometimes it is very hard to live with. If the limit escalates the situation, return to a discussion of feelings (e.g., “I can see you are pretty angry about having to follow the rules”). Once you have returned to feelings, re-establish the limit and QUICKLY move on to the INQUIRIES and PROMPTS steps. These steps let the child know you are going to try and help her find a way to live with the limit, then move forward to something more positive. If your attempts to talk it through continue to escalate the behavior, wait until the child is able to hear you.
What if I make an inquiry and the child does not respond?
Most children WILL give you a blank stare the first few times you make an inquiry. If there is no imminent danger, let them think for awhile before moving on to prompts.
How long should I wait for a child to “think”?
The timing of your FLIP IT sequence will depend on the situation and the children involved. Children who do not have experience problem-solving need to know you will support them by allowing time to think. As the child is thinking of possible solutions, you can be thinking of prompts to use if needed.
Can I use the INQUIRIES technique at other times?
Certainly, every situation presents multiple opportunities to invite a child to problem solve. The more children practice problem-solving skills, the better thinkers they will be during stressful and non-stressful times.
What if I make an inquiry and the child’s idea is not appropriate?
Often children offer fantasy solutions or self-centered ideas. Compliment them for trying and refine your question so they can try again. Example, “Hmm…what else could we try that would be more fair?”
How can I problem-solve with a child who has limited or no language?
When children have limited or no language skills, it is important to lend your voice to their problem-solving process. Use the INQUIRIES step out loud to inspire your own creative thinking, (e.g., “That noise is really loud and it looks like it’s making you nervous. What can we do to help you with the noise?”) This will help you think from the child’s point of view; when she is unable to tell you.
Should my inquiry be a question that leads to better coping skill around the feeling or the situation?
If the feelings are really intense the inquiry may be more focused on coping with feelings, rather than resolving a situation (e.g., “What can you do with that mad?”) Sometimes addressing feelings in Step -1 is enough and the inquiry will relate more toward changing the situation (e.g., “What can you do if you want more?”) The child will likely let you know if they need more focus on their feelings or quick help thinking through a problem. Either direction is helpful. Trust that you will decide what is best for each unique situation and adjust when needed.
What if I make an inquiry and the child’s response is negative or hostile?
Return to Step 1: FEELINGS. If a child begins to shut down or act-out during your attempt to problem-solve, remember she is new to identifying her feelings, living with limits and finding healthy solutions. You might say, “I can see that my question has made you very angry, and you are yelling. We use friendly voices. How can we help you with your anger?”
What if I get stuck trying to be creative?
Don’t be afraid to be silly. Sometimes the way out of a tough spot is humor. None of us want to be stuck, and a silly idea may be just what is needed to shift gears. You may also benefit from looking at the situation through the eyes of a child. Ask yourself, “If I was five, what would help me feel better?”
What is the difference between an INQUIRY and a leading question PROMPT?
Inquiries are open-ended questions to encourage children to think without the help of adult direction. If a child is unable to generate ideas on her own, we move onto the prompts step. Prompts can be leading questions that point the child in a positive direction, but still encourage her to make her own decisions. This process helps her take ownership of the solution.
What if I don’t think I can do this step?
Practice! Practice! Practice! Offering prompts can be the hardest of the 4 steps. It requires the ability to think on your feet which only gets better with practice.
Can I use props to prompt?
Absolutely! Use your environment and anything you can get your hands on to help guide a child toward a solution (e.g., puppets, toys, even pots and pans). Children sometimes need to see it before they can imagine it, so while you are prompting a child, offer visual cues (e.g., While holding a box and nodding your head toward it, ask “Hmmm…I wonder where we could put your castle for safe keeping.”)
How can I problem-solve and suggest prompts with a child who has limited or no language?
When children have limited or no language, it is important to lend your voice to their problem-solving process. If you are trying to help a child who is struggling with behavior, use the inquiries and prompts step out loud with yourself to inspire your own creative thinking, (e.g., “that noise is really loud and it looks like it’s bothering you, what can we do to help you with the noise? I wonder if some head-phones with music would help?”) This will help you to try and think from the child’s point of view, even when she cannot tell you.
What if the child does not respond to any of my prompts?
Try not to give up! One size does NOT fit all, and you may need to keep on trying. Often a child does not respond to the prompts you offer because they differ from his negative choices. Children who are very overwhelmed with the challenge before them may not accept ANY of your prompts, at which point you should start back at STEP 1 – FEELINGS (e.g., “It doesn’t seem like you like any of the options I suggested. You must be feeling really stuck.”)