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Rachel SperryDo you have a question about FLIP IT®?

Rachel Sperry, the author of FLIP IT would love to answer your question! Click here to submit your question.


What if the behavior is caused NOT by the feelings, but by the desire to gain attention? How do you begin FLIP it in this case?


“Wanting attention” is in fact a feeling that can be addressed using the FLIP IT steps. For example:

Feelings: “I see that you are pushing things over and looking at me to see if I’m watching. You must really want my attention.”
Limit: “We get attention by using our words.”
Inquiries: “If you wanted my attention what could you do?”
Prompt: “You could ask me to play or tell me you want to have a chat.”

Children who act out for attention must really need it, so we need to help them find more productive ways to get it. I will also add that wanting attention can also be motivating by a deeper feeling like loneliness or fear. Try to ask yourself, “what is he feeling right now that is making him do that?”


What do you do with a child that does not seem to care about the pain she has inflicted on teachers or other children?


We sometimes come across children who lack empathy for others. This means that they really do not seem to be able to connect with how their teacher or other children are feeling. Empathy with young children is a tough lesson. A child who does not yet understand her own emotions couldn’t possibly be expected to understand the feelings of others. FLIP IT with these children will help them understand their own feelings and therefore provide the gateway to empathy. I often say that a child who hurts others often does not yet understand the hurt inside herself. The first step for a child showing empathy to others is a safe adult showing empathy for her. I know it is difficult when it seems like a child doesn’t care, but if we show them empathy eventually they will be able to show it to others.


Hi, I’m Nicole. I am a preschool teacher who attended your FLIP IT presentation in Tennessee. I have been using FLIP IT with my own children and in my classroom. This strategy has been working well most of the time, but I have one child who tells me she hates me every single time I get to the inquiries step. I know you say, “go back to feelings” if a FLIP starts to FLOP, but every time I go through the steps and get back to inquiries, everything explodes! This little girl has a lot of troubles at home and “melts down” all day every day. My FLIPS go like this:
F - "I hear you yelling and crying. You must be feeling so frustrated"
L - "We use an inside voice to talk about feelings"
I - "Do you want to go play at the water table instead?" This is where she usually responds and says, “NO I hate you!”

Any insights would be welcome!


Nicole, thank you for sharing this very real life FLIP IT experience. It sounds like this particular girl needs alot of extra love and support. I am happy to tell you that your feelings and limit steps sound wonderful! You are on the right track. I am sure I do not need to remind you that FLIP IT takes longer to work with children who have a lot of “ick” and it is even more important to be consistent in your approach with these children.

Going back to the feelings step is always a good option when FLIPs start to FLOP, but I think we may be able to tweak your inquiries step so it is more successful. When we ask children to problem-solve, we should start the inquiries with open-ended questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no" response. Your example was more of a leading question and resulted in a “NO” response. We can also run into trouble when we ask questions focused more on redirection than helping the child think about her feelings.

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.

It sounds like this child may need you to stay focused on her feelings. A FLIP may sounds like this:
F - "I hear you yelling and crying. You must be feeling so frustrated"
L - "We use an inside voice to talk about feelings"
I - "What is a quiet way we can get out your frustration?"
P - “Sometimes it helps me to talk about my feelings with a friend. Which friend would you like to talk to? We have the Kind Caterpillar or Brave Bear (stuffed puppets)?”

Stick with her feelings so that she can learn some healthy coping skills when the troubles in her life get overwhelming. I wish you calm and serenity as you embark on this FLIP IT journey. Let me know how it goes!


Hi, I’m Roberta. I am a Head Start bus driver who attended your one day FLIP IT training in Texas. It was great, but most of it was for the classroom. I'm on the bus and I would like your help on a specific problem… Sometimes I get to a house and the child doesn’t want to go to school. The parent tells us that the child has to go school and walks away while the child proceeds to scream, kick, punch and grab the hand rail. I have an aid on the bus, but all the children are buckled in and we need to keep moving things along in a timely manner. How do I use FLIP IT in this situation?


Thanks for your email Roberta. This is a tough one and I'm not sure I have any miracle answers, but I'll try.

1. Remember that the stronger the relationship, the easier it will be to try any strategy. Find ways to bond with these children who have trouble transitioning. Have a special hello routine (handshake, song or hug). It may even be worth it to visit him/her in the classroom. The safer they feel with you the easier it will be to say good-bye to mom or dad.

2. Focus on feelings. We can only imagine what these children must be feeling and what "ick" they may be trying to cope with. Saying good-bye and coming to school can be very overwhelming. Sometimes just validating, "yes, I know it is scary and you are so sad to leave mommy" can calm a child down.

3. Offer things to help a child get re-focused on a pleasant bus trip (prompts). Have a bin of books, stuff animals, squeeze toys, etc... available to children.

A FLIP might sounds like this...
F - "I see you are so sad to leave mommy."
L - "It is okay to feel sad."
I - "What can we do to help you feel better?"
P - "Would you like to choose something from our bus bin to hold on the ride?"

You will want to move through the FLIP IT steps pretty quick and try to help a child out of their "ick" with prompts and supports as fast as you can. Stay calm, gentle and kind :)

The fact that you even emailed me tells me that you have the heart to help these kids through this tough transition. I wish you luck and peace as you begin the school year. Let me know how it goes!

About Rachel

Rachel Sperry, MSW, is an Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist and Trainer for the Devereux Center for Resilient Children. Rachel received her Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Sociology from Ithaca College in New York and received her Master’s in Social Work from The University of Albany. Rachel began her career as a preschool teacher for children who were deaf and hard of hearing. Rachel has worked in therapeutic preschool settings as a teacher and therapist. As a Mental Health Coordinator and consultant for Head Start, Rachel has first-hand experience implementing the DECA Program. Rachel is based in New York's Capital Region where she worked as the coordinator of an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Service. Most recently she has developed FLIP IT®, a strategy to address challenging behaviors. Rachel is currently responsible for providing professional development and technical assistance to early childhood programs throughout the nation. Rachel is a Certified Trainer for the Devereux Center for Resilient Children.

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