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Looking around your classroom, you know which students struggle to manage their emotions. There’s the student who at the slightest frustration crosses his arms and puts his head down on his desk. And the student who is so easily angered it seems impossible to anticipate her temper tantrums.
The thing is, if we want to change children’s behavior, the first thing we have to change is our own. When a student misbehaves, having a plan of action can make all the difference. The FLIP IT® strategy from the Devereux Center for Resilient Children is a four-step sequence that you can use to help your students learn about their feelings, gain self-control and reduce challenging behavior. Here’s how it works:
All behavior stems from feelings. When kids feel good, their behavior is positive. When they feel frustrated, angry, sad or overwhelmed, their behavior reflects it. The first part of FLIP IT is to name and acknowledge the student’s feelings.
For example, when your student Jon takes one look at the assignment you handed out and pushes the papers off his desk, crosses his arms over his chest and slumps in his chair, you can approach him and whisper, “I can see that you’re frustrated right now. …”
TIP: Rather than asking children “why” they did something (“Why did you push your papers off the desk?”), ask “what” questions (“What’s going on inside you right now?”). Often, kids don’t know the why behind their behavior, so asking them to explain themselves adds to their frustration and limits any problem solving.
Limits set the expectations for students, communicate that you care, and provide boundaries for problem solving. After you’ve acknowledged a student’s feelings, remind him of the limit. This should be a classroom rule or limit the child already knows. In the previous example, you would name a limit around how to handle frustration with classwork: “We take a break if we’re frustrated” or “We raise our hand and ask for help if the work feels like too much.”
TIP: When naming a limit, phrase it in terms of what students can or should do, rather than what they shouldn’t do. Telling students “don’t be rude” is less helpful than telling them “remember to use kind words.”
Once you have gained a child’s attention, named the feeling and reminded him of the limit, it’s time to problem-solve. That’s where inquiries, questions and statements that help students think of solutions come in. Back to our example, ask, “How do you think we could fix this?” or “What could we do to solve this?”
TIP: Tone is important during FLIP IT. Keeping a positive, engaging tone communicates that the problem is solvable and reminds the student that you believe in him. Using a confrontational tone, perhaps asking, “Well, what are you going to do now?” undermines the problem-solving approach.
Prompts are an opportunity to provide the student with possibilities that they may not have come up with yet. In particular, prompt students toward a solution if they haven’t come up with a viable one. These creative cues, clues and suggestions engage children in the process. For example, to Jon you might say, “Hmm, I bet we could pick these papers up and grab a book from the library.” Prompts are also a chance to play to a child’s strengths. For example, if a child is good at one part of a math assignment, you might point her there first.
TIP: Offer prompts with enthusiasm so the solution feels like an opportunity, not a chore.
Here is another example of a FLIP in action:
Situation: A kindergartener is having a tantrum.
Feelings: “Wow, you’re really angry and your arms and legs are swinging around.”
Limits: “We keep each other safe in our classroom.”
Inquiries: “What could we do to help your body calm down?”
Prompts: “Do you want to try to squeeze this ball as hard as you can, or do you want me to try to roll this car up and down your back.”
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