Is Your Child Sitting in a Nest of Snakes at School?

Should He Adjust or Get Out?

Nest of Snakes
Jim Larkin/ Vetta/ Getty Images

Imagine that your child is sitting in a nest of snakes. The snakes aren't poisonous, but you can see that your child is clearly uncomfortable and miserable in that nest. He is squirming and wiggling and looks like he's trying to escape, but he can't get out by himself. What would you do? Would you try to help your child adjust to being in the nest? Would you take your child to a therapist to help him cope with being in the nest?

Or would you just take your child out of the nest?

Of course, we would want to know why your child is in that nest of snakes to begin with. Perhaps you put your child in that nest. People had told you that it's critical for children to spend years in a nest of snakes in order to be successful later in life. If fact, people believe it is so critical that laws have been passed mandating that children sit in a nest of snakes for at least ten years!

Children's Reactions to Being in the Snake's Nest

Some children don't seem to be bothered by the snakes. Some of them actually seem to enjoy it! They work hard to fit in with the snakes and do what is necessary to be a successful snake-nest sitter. A small number of children, however, are particularly sensitive to the snakes and much more aware of them than most other children.

Those children who are more sensitive to the snakes react to the snake environment in different ways.

Some of them challenge those who are keeping them in the nest. To the nest-keepers and some others, those children appear very disrespectful. Other sensitive children react physically. They may hop around, wiggle or behave in other ways that the nest keepers consider to be disruptive to the rest of the nest.

Parents of these children are called to the nest. They are often told that their children have some kind of adjustment problem. They may have SDD - Snake Defiant Disorder - or they may have SNAD - Snake Nest Adjustment Disorder. In those cases, medication is recommended. With medication the nest-sensitive children can be just like all the other children - sitting respectfully and quietly in the snake nest.

Another group of these sensitive students may just give up. They have adjusted to being in the snake nest by no longer caring. They have become apathetic. They have learned to become helpless, much like the shocked dogs in Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier's experiments. They realize that there is nothing they can do about their situation and just give up caring about it. These children tend to be ignored by the nest keepers. They become almost invisible. They don't cause any trouble and they don't stand out as exceptional nest sitters. All their potential is lost.

Parents' Reactions to Their Child Being in the Snake Nest

Most parents sat in a nest of snakes themselves and have been convinced that being able to sit in that nest and excel as a snake-nest sitter is the key to success in life.

For that reason, most parents will spend their time helping their child adjust to the snake nest and do what is necessary to do well there. But for parents of the sensitive children, it's not always so simple.

Some of the parents question why their child needs to be acclimated to the nest of snakes, particularly when it means that their child must take drugs in order to stop wiggling and hopping around. Those parents, quite reasonably, believe that wiggling and hopping around is a very natural and expected reaction to being in the middle of a nest of snakes. But they often find it difficult to find any understanding among the nest keepers.

Parents of children who are still wiggling may try to get the nest keepers to change the nest before their child develops learned helplessness and not only stops wiggling, but stops caring as well. Sometimes these parents, along with those whose child has already stopped caring about the snakes, may look for experts who can test their child and provide counseling so their child cares again and is also able to cope with sitting with the writhing snakes.

A few parents wonder why so many parents accept snakes and are so eager to have their child sit among them. These parents think, "This is crazy. Why am I spending all this time and energy trying to get my child comfortable sitting in this nest of snakes when he's obviously uncomfortable and miserable. I'm just going to get my child out of that nest of snakes."

The Reality of the Nest of Snakes

In this hypothetical situation, the nest of snakes is an inappropriate academic environment and the children with problems in it are gifted children. Not all gifted kids have problems in school because of inappropriate educational services, but many do. And those problems are often interpreted to be a result of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Attentional Deficit Disorder (ADHD). Many gifted children eventually stop caring and become underachievers.

A majority of parents try to work with the school and the teachers, who in the hypothetical situation are the nest keepers. But all too often parents find it difficult, if not impossible, to get the kind of academic challenges their child needs. Instead, they are encouraged to put their child on Ritalin or some other drug for ADHD, or to take their child to a counselor or therapist. Sometimes they are even told that their child has no special needs or that providing them would be "unfair" to the other children. Meanwhile, their child is uncomfortable and miserable.

When you think about the school environment of some gifted kids as a nest of snakes, the answer seems to be rather obvious: if it's not possible to get the snakes out of the nest, take the child out of the nest instead. The alternatives are private schools and homeschooling. Unfortunately, those options aren't possible for all families. Parents in those families will have to continue trying to get rid of the snakes, while watching their child continue to suffer and squirm.

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