Many of you have expressed curiosity about what exactly goes on in the after-school support groups we run here at the Kids First Center. Parents frequently share with us how much their children looked forward to coming each week (after their initial reticence, which is common), and kids tell us how much we’ve helped them “get things out.” Read on to hear a first-hand account of this group experience from one of our wonderful group facilitators, Amy Reynolds. (Amy works at Day One as an Adolescent Substance Abuse Counselor and also with Cumberland County Crisis Response. Her parents divorced when she was a young adult).
What does the first session (week 1) of your 6-week kids group look like?
Many of the kids report being nervous and not wanting to come to the group. They often are very quiet and eager to learn what the group is going to be like. They warm up rather quickly when they can relate to a few of their peers and participate in some ice breakers. Usually by the end of the class they are much more outgoing and future planning for the next session.
How does the demeanor of the kids change over the course of the six weeks?
I find that it takes the first two weeks to build trust and rapport, but many of the kids who were initially very quiet have usually become equally participatory. In my experience, there is often one kid in the group who can get more wiggly than the rest, but this distraction frequently helps those who are more quiet feel better about sharing something in hopes of trying to relate.
What kinds of activities do you do?
Most popular are making masks, playing games like forced choice, the arts and crafts of making t-shirts and bugs. I even tried a game show one day where they made their own nicknames. The kids also do enjoy the snacks and anticipated pizza party!
Are there common themes in the things that kids typically want to talk about?
The kids mostly want to talk about the impact of parents fighting, the difficulties of travelling between two houses, wanting to be with one parent more than the other, and the fear around parents starting to date.
How do you address these issues?
Much of the work is getting the kids to name their fears and concerns instead of wearing the mask of being “Happy” about the divorce. Many fear telling their parents how they feel about the divorce because they don’t want to upset parents who appear to already be upset. Also reiterating many times that divorce is never their fault.
Do you feel like the kids respond differently hearing these things from a neutral source?
Yes, they have said that they have a hard time believing parents because they fear they are just trying to make them feel better, and they refer to conversations they’ve overheard. They also talk about the pressure that they feel having to be the go-between with their parents, and feel pressured to take sides. The group setting with their peers provides a place to just feel and think without the pressures and fears of disappointing or hurting anyone.
How do the kids benefit from interacting with their peers in the group?
They don’t feel quite so alone, as if they are the only ones going through this hard time. It really helps to relate to other kids their own age. I feel like when one has the courage to say something heavy and honest in group, there is a domino effect of others wanting to release a feeling or a thought. It can be very powerful.
What kind of closure is there at the end of the six weeks?
The kids participate in a Pizza Party and recap of the group. I had the kids make positive comments/messages to each peer to put in their decorated coping skills jar on the last day. Some kids decided to give other kids their phone numbers. Some kids choose to repeat groups, which we welcome.