Back in the day, I taught a preschool and had a Garter snake given as pet. That opportunity gave me a chance to witness something that has influenced my understanding of how people move forward in conquering ‘scary things’ that I find holds true for my ADHD adult clients trying to move forward in changing mindsets and strategies, today.
A pet snake is an unusual classroom pet but I found it the perfect tool in teaching conquering fear. I watched children learn to make decisions on how to manage emotions and choices to handle the snake. Its also a great gauge to look back and see how much growth we have in our snake-handling skills and our choices to interact with it. It was truly an exercise in self regulation for many of my students in setting goals, managing strong impulses and working towards change. Moving forward must be a self directed activity. What became apparent to me was that each child became aware of their personal desire to hold the snake, or not.
Lesson#1 Making scary changes requires that we decide to change.
I saw many (not all) were fearful of the snake and did not want to hold it. When I would get out our snake to be handled by those who wanted to touch, it gave the class a chance to talk about the feelings they were having. Some kids were expressed excitement and gusto in the idea of holding a snake. While others screeched when hearing the snake was coming out even though they had said they wanted to hold the snake.
Lesson #2 When making your changes, be careful the words you use when talking to yourself. The language used to talk to ourselves is important in getting us to the place we want to be… so choose your words carefully when moving towards your goal.
The idiosyncrasies of each child became apparent at the beginning of the goal setting. Some couldn’t wait to hold the snake; Others wanted to see the snake, not touch it; Several others wouldn’t even set foot on the carpet where we would sit in a circle and hold the snake. It was important to listen to those idiosyncrasies to be successful as they moved forward in their goals long term.
Lesson #3 We all have different experiences that inform our risk taking capability when facing the goals we are pursuing and it’s important to listen to them ONLY as a starting place.
My role in the year long exercise of facilitating snake handling with preschoolers was to make observations about some of the choices the children were choosing with the snake, or leave the rug to observe the scene with curiosity. We shared feelings as I watched on the faces of the kids holding the snake, as well, as those not holding the snake. My class’s weekly attempt to hold the snake grew our vocabulary, emotional responses and self-regulation. Within four months, most of the children were able to request or verbalize their intentions about the snake. They were commenting on their progress toward the goal of holding the snake. Some were noticing that they could be on the rug with the snake (when they previously couldn’t), while others were actually now holding the snake.
Lesson #4 A coaching environment must not force change but invite curiosity by providing a place to re-imagine ourselves and move toward our goals. Facilitating change requires developing new vocabulary and alternative ideas of ourselves.
I know this observation was in the context of a preschool classroom, but it allowed me to see a process that is personal for each individual I work with (ADHD or not) and has specific components that need supported as self regulation develops.