My First Anxiety Attack

February 3, 2020  |  Published by

My first anxiety attack happened suddenly and unexpectedly. I was just leaving work as a preschool teacher when it happened right there in the school parking lot. My head began to spin, my heart raced, and I began to sweat. Soon after, I visited my doctor. The doctor asked, “Are you feeling stressed?” I reflected on this question... Here I am mother of two young children, husband away on a military deployment (again), preschool teacher with a few children with major behavior challenges… I said, “No, I’m not stressed.” He then assured me the attack was brought on by stress.

The fact was I had three children in my preschool classroom with major behavior challenges, one child in particular was on my mind day and night. Zachary (not his real name) was a charmer, everyone’s friend and a leader in the classroom. However, he had a mean streak. Every day, there was an incident that left another child physically hurt- sometimes bloody. I tried every behavior technique I knew with Zachary, then asked my co-workers and directors for help. Something was happening to Zachary, some trigger that set him off, but we could not figure it out.

It was just before Zachary transitioned to another classroom when I had a breakthrough. I learned from the family that Zachary had some major changes in his life. A grandmother that had taken care of him from birth to age three, became ill and was moved to an assisted living facility. In addition, it was shared that there were some domestic abuse incidents that occurred in which Zachary had witnessed. It was obvious that the behaviors he was expressing was coming from a place of emotionally hurt. If only I had some tools or strategy to help Zachary identify those feelings, gain healthy self-control, and reduce the challenging behaviors.

I began to spend more time with Zachary to build a stronger bond between us. In addition, the other teachers and I took time to recognize the positive things he was doing in the classroom. Although we had some success, we knew we needed more. If only there was a strategy that I could use that would help address all of his needs and our goals with him.

I did not have FLIP IT in my toolbox at that time in my career. If only I had, I may have avoided those anxiety attack that I began having. What? You haven’t heard of FLIP IT!? FLIP IT training is based on the book FLIP IT! Transforming Challenging Behavior by Rachel Wagner Sperry. The flip in FLIP IT, stands for Feelings, Limits, Inquires, and Prompts. The feelings step helps adults notice what is happening with the child during times of stress and labels it with an emotion. Limit steps allows the adult to decide what the appropriate boundary or limit is for the situation. The inquiry step asks, “What is the best way to handle this?” When a child cannot see a solution to the situation, the prompt step is used. This step uses creative thinking with for suggestions to help think outside of the box.

As parents and teachers, we want to arm children with the ability to cope with the stressful situations they can encounter as well as become problem solvers. These simple steps can help our children develop these necessary skills. FLIP IT simplifies it into four steps.

In October 2017, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to work directly with the author of the book. We took three full days to dig in and discover the techniques of this strategy to be able to bring it back to Arizona as facilitators. I remember being glued to my seat and hanging onto every word she shared. Rachel had very real experiences that connected with me at some level. We both had a child that impacted us. During one of the activities, we are asked to think of a child we are eager to flip. I did not think of my own children or even any of the children I was currently working with. I thought of Zachary.

Part of the training looks at the “ick” that children have in their lives that are very real reasons for their behaviors. Zachary’s icks, or challenges, were losing a loved one and witnessing violence. Both of these instances had him uncertain and untrusting of others. Now, you may be thinking that you have a child with challenging behavior that does not have these negative risk factors in their lives. That is the beauty of FLIP IT. It is not only good for those severe behavior concerns but for the everyday minor challenges or conflicts. FLIP IT offers tools and strategies for caregivers as well as parents, to use in empowering children to become healthy problem solvers.

You can add this great tool to your toolbox as well. Our FLIP IT trainings is offered to parents or anyone working with or caring for kids. Visit our professional development page for more details.

Ruth Ray
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