Flopping behaviour is defined as the sudden and abrupt action of deliberately going down. Flopping could look like suddenly sitting or falling on one’s knees or lying down on a surface and refusing to move.


Almost all children have displayed flopping behaviour in the early stages of development (up to five years of age). For example, a child who gets refused a lollipop in the shop despite their requests may feel disappointed and fall to the ground and refuse to move. A child who is trying to build a train set but the magnets in between the trains keep pulling apart may out of frustration  lie down on the ground on their stomach with their face down with flailing arms and feet kicking. A child who is told they have to stop playing at the beach and need to go home may in anger sit down, scream and refuse to move.

When children mature and with adult guidance, they develop appropriate ways of communicating their needs, interacting with others, problem-solving, coping with their emotions and controlling their behaviours, which helps them outgrow the flopping behaviour.


Flopping behaviour in children of all ages becomes a concern when the following occur:

  • the frequency (i.e. how often a child exhibits flopping behaviour) becomes excessive,
  • the duration (i.e. how long each incident of the flopping behaviour lasts) becomes excessive,
  • the intensity (i.e. the strength of the flopping behaviour) escalates from minor behaviours into extreme behaviours, and
  • the flopping behaviour negatively impacts the child’s participation in activities, interaction with others, their day-to-day functioning and development.


When a child begins to persistently exhibit flopping behaviours, the climate of the context (e.g. childcare, preschool, kindergarten, school, disability support and youth service) can change dramatically. A considerable amount of time and energy can be spent on the child showing the flopping behaviour, which can have a deleterious effect on the quality of the educational experience for all children. Research consistently shows that managing behaviour is linked to staff experiencing high levels of stress, burnout, and job dissatisfaction.

Example 1:

Ms Smith is having trouble with nine-year-old Frank, a child with Down syndrome in her class. When asked to move from one location to another he often flops. Ms Smith has observed this happens especially if he is asked to move from the playground back to class at the end of recess or lunch. He will often flop to the ground and lie on his stomach and refuse to stand up and go to his classroom. When Frank flops on the ground it can take up to 20 mins or longer to encourage him to get up and walk to class. Sometimes duty staff in the playground can encourage him to get up but most often it means that Ms Smith has to leave her classroom and the other children to guide Frank back to class. Even when he does start walking he may drop to the ground and the whole process of getting him to stand up and walk starts again. This term Ms Smith would like to start taking all the children on different weekly outings to help them practise travel training skills such as journey planning, getting about, behaving appropriately and staying safe. However, she is concerned about how Frank’s behaviour on these outings as these will be new and stressful situations that involve lots of transitions (arrive at school → walk to the classroom → walk to the bus stop → go on bus → get down from the bus → walk around the different shops in the shopping centre → have lunch → walk to the bus stop → go back to school).

Hence, flopping behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is flopping requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.


Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

PBS recognises that there is no single cause for flopping behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

Flopping behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.

There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:

  • environment
  • activity, and
  • interaction

These factors place different demands on the child and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in flopping behaviour. Flopping may be the only way the child has learnt how to respond to these demands and get their message across.

EXAMPLE 1…contd:

As previously discussed Frank is a nine-year-old with Down syndrome. Due to certain physical characteristics Frank has low muscle tone (hypotonia), decreased strength (muscle weakness) in his legs, and looseness of the ligaments (ligamentous laxity) which causes him to have poor endurance, strength and stamina.  This makes it difficult for him to walk, run or stand for long periods of time. This is one of the causes for why Frank will often flop to the floor at the end of recess or lunch because he is so fatigued that he can’t muster the energy to walk back to class which is at quite a distance.

The example highlights that flopping behaviour is not without purpose. It is never too late to address flopping behaviour, even if it has been occurring for a while.

Developing a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan to address the flopping behaviour involves three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.

  • ASSESS: How to identify the reasons that contribute to the flopping behaviour,
  • MANAGE: How to respond when flopping behaviour occurs, and
  • PREVENT: How to minimise or eliminate the occurrence of flopping behaviour.


Assess Stage Aims

The Assess stage helps to identity:

  • Activities during which the flopping behaviour occurs,
  • Environments in which the flopping behaviour occurs, and
  • People dealing with the flopping behaviour.

Assess Stage Checklist:

  • Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
  • Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s flopping
  • Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the flopping behaviour), describing the flopping behaviour, consequences (what happened after the flopping behaviour).
  • Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the flopping behaviour served.


Manage Stage Aims

The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviours that occur before the flopping and after. Appropriate responses can help to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

Manage Stage Checklist:

  • Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation, and recovery stage).
  • Escalation profile– Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages, where the flopping behaviour occurs in the escalation and how long it can last.
  • De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the behaviour occurs, safely defuse, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.


Prevent Stage Aims

This stage aims to minimise the occurrence of the flopping by reducing or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.

Prevent Stage plan

The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the flopping behaviours by providing the child with:

  • Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of flopping
  • Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of flopping
  • Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that contribute to the occurrence of flopping behaviour, and
  • Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.


Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in F for Flopping: Positive Behaviour Support guide to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.