Within a variety of social-emotional learning curriculums, from Minds-Up to Second Step, there are self-awareness and mental wellness lessons about the role the amygdala plays within our brains. To put a very complicated neuro-science concept into simple terms, the amygdala is the part of our brain that gets trigged by high levels of stress and result in a fight, fight or freeze response. In Laurie Franks wonderful game “Growth Circles”, found in her book Journey Towards the Caring Classroom 2nd Edition, Laurie describes the amygdala zone as the danger zone. When we are in the danger zone or amygdala – flight, fight, or freeze – zone we cannot think very clearly. As a result, we less likely to be able to make responsible or good decisions and things that we are often fully capable of managing go out the window. The goal of teaching these lessons is to help us understand what may trigger our amygdala and then consider what strategies we can use to cope with theses stressor. It has been my experience that this whole concept or our danger zone or amygdala responses can be hard to internalize and comprehend. That is where the metaphor of the Squawking rubber chicken comes in…..
In the experiential education community it is rare to find an educator or facilitator without their handy squawking rubber chicken in their tool box. A good quality squawking rubber chicken has many practical and metaphorical purposes within community building and personal awareness activities. In one of my favourite games, Group Juggle, a group is asked to pass an object in a specific pattern over and over again. The game gets harder when a second object gets added to the game, now with two objects being passed in a certain order. The game gets quite complicated, fun, and possibly distracting when the third object to enter the game is a squawking rubber chicken. It’s amazing how both kids and adults alike get distracted by the chicken –out of excitement or frustration- thereby causing even the first two objects to start getting thrown poorly, dropped, or passed out of order. The chicken entering the game is like having one’s amygdala trigged or entering the danger zone, even the things we are usually okay at managing, like the ball and the bean bag, start becoming unmanageable and sources of stress.
The question, from a self-awareness is perspective, is what is your squawking rubber chicken? We all have one or more chickens in our lives. For me, my common chicken is often the prospect of being late for something I deme important. I can usually can be reasonably calm when trying to get out of the house in the morning. However, if something happens that puts me behind schedule or I have an important meeting that I don’t want to even possibly be close to late for, my squawking rubber chicken usually enters my brain, my amygdala has started to turn on, and I am getting very close to entering my danger zone. As a result, I may start to move more frantically, become a bit more demanding on my kids to hurry up, and I am more likely to leave something like my wallet or lunch behind. Why? Because I was not in a mind set to be thinking clearly. We all have things in our lives that are our rubber chickens. Sometimes our chicken reflect more common issues like being late or getting ready for a presentation, or meeting someone new. Other times the chickens are more significant, like an illness, family separation, or being left out. The first step towards self-awareness, and then possibly self-management, is figuring out - what are our squawking chickens?