Defining flopping behaviour
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.
Flopping behaviour as a part of normal development
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 of concern
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.
Impact of flopping behaviour
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.
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 resources for flopping behaviour
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. Behaviour Help resources are at hand.