On most days parenting is a joyful, rewarding, and beautiful experience. Not that it’s easy, but it is our great work. The love we have for our children is indescribable. From the moment they come rushing into our lives at birth, an indelible bond is formed between us and them. On most days, we feel blessed and thankful to be parents.
And then there are the other days.
The days when we engage in battle after battle with our children over seemingly every little thing. We have power struggles with them over sharing toys, leaving a park, getting ready for bed, turning off a video game, eating breakfast, dressing for school, tying shoes, brushing teeth.
Our lovely children aren’t so lovely anymore. They scream, cry, hit, kick, and disregard our every request.
We lose our patience, skills, and sometimes we believe we are going to lose our minds. In those hard moments, we wonder why we ever became parents. It is easy to lose our cool and our parenting know-how during those times.
A strategy offered by the Devereaux Center for Resilient Children, called FLIP It! could be your lifeline in those moments of frustration.
FLIP It! is a supportive four step process that helps children identify their feelings and learn healthy self-control. When this happens, challenging behaviors are reduced.
The FLIP in FLIP It! is an acronym for 1. Feelings, 2. Limits, 3. Inquiries, and 4. Prompts.
- Feelings: Talk calmly with your child about their feelings. Tell them what you notice is happening because of their emotions. Help them identify the root feelings causing the behavior.
- Limits: Remind them of the positive limits and expectations you have for their behavior. Loving and simple limits help surround children with a sense of consistency, safety, and trust.
- Inquiries: Encourage your child to think about solutions to their challenges. Ask them questions that encourage problem-solving and healthy coping skills. Inquiries invite children to think, learn, and gain self-control.
- Prompts: Provide creative cues, clues, and suggestions for your child if they are having trouble thinking of a way to solve the problem. Offering them bright ideas can lead the way to better problem-solving skills in the future.
Carrie Morris, Disabilities Coordinator for Puget Sound Educational Service District, says helping children identify their feelings is critical. “If you rush by the feelings part, it’s not going to be as effective. Children learn empathy by being empathized with. Teaching children feelings words is very important.”
To illustrate how FLIP It! can work, I will travel back in time to when my son Phoenix was three.
We are at the local toy store, and he is feverishly playing at the train table when I let him know it’s time to go. He starts screaming and swats Thomas and Gordon off the tracks, so I try FLIP It!
- Feelings: “Phoenix, you are mad and frustrated because you love playing with the trains . . .”
- Limits: “. . . but screaming at the store is not okay, and we need to take care of the trains so we can play with them another time.”
- Inquiries: “What could you do instead of screaming and hurting the trains when you are so mad?” (He is having a hard time coming up with solutions, so I offer a prompt).
- Prompt: “You could take some belly-breaths and ask if you can play a little longer.” He takes three deep breaths and asks if he can play some more. I respond, “Wow Phoenix, you calmed yourself and you are asking me in such a nice way. I’ll set my phone for five minutes and then it will be time to go. Deal?” He agrees, and five minutes later we head happily out of the store.
What Phoenix learned in that experience was that by calming himself, asking for what he wanted, and making a fair deal with Dad, he could get his needs met.
FLIP It! is not magical. It won’t always work, and it might not have worked with Phoenix and the trains. But with consistent practice and patience, the power struggles that drive us mad as parents become more the exception than the rule.
FLIP It! offers children the chance to better understand what to do when strong emotions attempt to sweep them away, and it offers parents a positive way to show their children that they love them and that they can get through the hard moments together.