Let it Go
by Dr. Will Henson
I was recently consulting at a school on the Oregon coast. A student was sent to the office because he was extremely dysregulated and was causing problems in the class. I knew this student was often highly reactive to small problems and I had consulted with the principal about him many times. It was apparent he was not ready to talk and process what happened, so I ended up playing a card game with him.
After our first game, he wanted to play another, so I said, “Okay, but only if you do something for me.” He looked suspicious, but I explained the plan as follows; “If I play another game with you, you have to agree to let the next thing that bothers you go, no matter how big it is”. The student agreed – mainly because he didn’t want to go back to class.
So after the game, we practiced this new “Let it Go”skill. First, we thought about what kinds of things could happen that might make him mad. We thought together about what he might say to himself or out loud, for which we chose the phrase “I’m just gonna let this go.” Then we rehearsed it a few times until I felt like he had the rhythm and cadence of it. At first he said the phrase really fast and it sounded forced.
So, I told him, “Lean back in your chair, like you are sitting by the pool this summer, and you don’t have a care in the world. And slow your speech way down.” He laughed as I modeled it for him. Then he tried it a few times. We practiced until he could really act it out – head rolled back, posture slouched down, voice calm and slow and a big relaxed smile on his face.
The first important part of this was I needed him to perform it. I wanted him to use the same cadence and rhythm, to really act out the part that I wanted him to play. Second, I wanted to make him curious about using it. Third, I didn’t want to ask him to do it forever, just to try it once. That way he can be successful and feel good about it. I did not have any illusions that this skill would create a major change right away, but hoped for a minor positive outcome.
What are some examples of other ways you could have a student learn, perform, and practice a new skill?