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Students: Finding Your Super Power

My day began with a telephone call. It was a teacher who was worried about a student who was in the bathroom stall. They were not leaving the stall. They were not using the bathroom. They were hiding. The teacher asked if they were okay and there was no response, so the teacher called me. I walked to the bathroom not knowing what I was going to face. I knocked on the stall door and said, "Come out of the stall and tell me what is going on. I want to help." A few minutes later, the stall opened and a student appeared. In tears.

We walked to my office in silence, me a few steps ahead of her. She wasn't in trouble and I understood that walking with me in the hallway is not a badge of honor. When we got to a safe place, she cried harder. She shared her story:

I am hiding in the bathroom so I don't have to take the quiz that I know I am not prepared for. I am going to fail the quiz and then I am going to get kicked out of class. I am going to have to leave the only class I have with my only friend and go to another class where I don't know anyone except for the girl who is now dating my old boyfriend and has taken all my friends and I don't know what to do because I tried to be nice to her but I don't think she actually likes my hair cut even though she said she did.

Whoa. I am pretty good at keeping things straight but I cannot keep this one straight.

"How are you feeling, right now?"

I am tired.

You think!? This poor teenager is working so hard at making up stories she has worn herself out by What-iffing. What if... What if I don't do well on the quiz? The probability of losing all her friends and having a bad haircut is really quite small. Trying to communicate that to a teenager can be difficult.

It is helpful to have a few approaches to this conversation. My first goal is to UN- hijack the part in her brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is where the fight or flight or freeze response lives. She is hijacked. To un-hijack her, I will try a few things. One, I will sit and wait in silence until her breath regulates. I might use a tool to ask her how she is feeling. I have postcards that I spread out. I invite her to pick one and ask why she was drawn to it. I might ask her to take a deep breath and remind her that her feet are solidly on the floor. I will wait until she regulates her body. It usually takes less time than you think. Once she is able to process emotions, I will work on asking her to find evidence. Evidence that she will fail the quiz, evidence that she will be kicked out of class. Every part of her story is based on an emotional response rather than an evidence based prediction. My second goal is to help her find reason in her predictions. To do this, I may break down each of her statements and ask for evidence. I might catastrophize with her if she can find the humor in it. I might choose to lift her up and highlight her strengths if she is lacking confidece in the moment. Depending on her response, I will choose a path forward.

I will not give up or let her go until the tears are gone and two options have been presented and practiced. Two options gives her control of the situation again. Perhaps we will walk through a way to clam down so that she can do well on the quiz. I might, instead, walk her through connecting with the teacher to see if she would ever be kicked out of class. I might send her off to lunch and have her take the quiz after school.

Being able to re-regulate is a super power. In this example, we were able to help someone stop what-iffing so they can be more present in the moment. Being present means that the what-ifs can't take on a life of their own. Then she isn't fighting her amygdala. And she is able to reason her way to a solution.

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From our All-School Assembly, February 28, 2024 Written by Nell Dailey “On this rainy day in February, I want to share a story with you. So sit back, put your phones away, and give me your attention.


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