When I was in high school I was asked to participate in a few therapeutic groups. My answer was always the same…”Not a chance.” In my mind I was not like “those” kids and I didn’t need it. Now as a counselor who runs groups, I realize just how valuable they are, in school, out of school and in life.
To see how one common concern or feeling can connect others so quickly, so intensely and so easily is rewarding to know that for those moments of the day, connections are made, comfort is felt and learning different ways to respond are being taught, not by me, but by the real life experiences and views of others.
I would estimate that one of the feelings that bring us down the most at times of distress is the sense of being alone. Feeling like no one understands us and what we are going through and like we are walking in the dark with no knowledge of what’s in front of us, struggling to find faith that we will figure it out…on our own.
When we discover people who have similar views, relationships and an understanding of our experiences, we are drawn to them and often times, friendships are born. To have others to relate to and listen to the thoughts we didn’t think anyone could understand is comforting and empowering and essential for many of us. To be connected and feel connected is a gift. As is the knowledge and understanding that at the end of the day, we are all walking this road of life together.
Group therapy is not new and it’s typically not that formal. Women form their groups undercover by names like Book Club, Jewelry Parties and Girls Night Out. Men watch sporting events, climb mountains, work on motors together (I am shamelessly gender stereotyping right now, but you get the point) and find through their focus on interests they can share in their commonalities. We learn so much about each other as we watch how others interact, listen to their viewpoints and figure out where we fit in.
In whatever groups we become a part of, the premise remains the same, the more we share, the more we trust each other, the more we learn and the less we feel alone. But more importantly, the more we allow ourselves to get to know others, to experience how similar we are, the less likely we are to judge and more likely to acknowledge acceptance of others- flaws and all.
When it comes to our children, we can create the same group dynamic for them. Whether we are coaching a team, driving them in a car pool, or have a group of kids over to hang out, we can encourage the sharing and understanding of each other and help them focus on the many commonalities they have. We can easily become the group facilitator by asking a few thought provoking questions, and even some not so thought provoking questions.
- Talk about something they all know, a T.V. show, a game they like, or tell them a funny story to get them laughing and comfortable. The key is to help them let their guard down while talking about things that are safe and easy.
- Once you sense that they are comfortable, ask them questions about their relationships with their siblings (a typical commonality amongst kids), or what their favorite vacation is, what subject they like in school the most or which one they find the hardest. Ask them what games they like to play or who their first crush was. The key is to get them talking about things they can relate to with each other, so they can focus on their similarities, but also to learn from each other that they have differences that are okay and make them unique.
- The more comfortable they become, ask more opinionated questions so they can safely express themselves, while being open to listening to the thoughts of their peers.
- Share your own thoughts and stories with them, with a focus on your own interests and life lessons you’ve learned by making mistakes and fixing them, or by the rewards you earned of doing things well the first time. The more you share, they more comfortable they will feel talking to you and trusting you and in turn, the group (aka- their friends)
The goal is a quick lesson in teaching our children that we are all fundamentally the same on many levels if we are willing to take the time to peel the layers and allow ourselves to be who we are. The more we feel connected to others, the more we are willing to trust, the less alone we feel in our times of discouragement and the more content we will feel overall when we focus on the acceptance of our differences.
Pretty cool lesson, huh?