Plants are featured along a windowsill inside of the Group Room at The Counseling Center.
How Group Sessions Fill Much Needed Gaps in Age of Pandemic
The boys take turns guessing at how Finn the dog might be feeling. Sitting in a loose circle with legs dangling, they twist in their plastic chairs to get a better look at him as he sniffs along the carpet under their feet. One boy said she seemed to be smiling while another questioned whether his panting red tongue meant she was mad. They shrug and agree Finn looks pretty happy.
In a few minutes, their group – Kids Can! – will get underway. As one of three age-designated group meetings run by licensed counselors Tomi Barbour and Robin Voigt at The Counseling Center of Gillette, the kids meet three times a week for an hour each day to work on identifying specific feelings, developing their social skills as well as helpful coping skills.
The three groups are broken into ages for children kindergarten through sixth grade and meet three days a week for five weeks with two sessions over the summer, the next of which begins July 14 – Aug 13.
Today, just as in other sessions, the boys in this morning’s meeting will continue learning to identify their various feelings using four colored squares taped to a nearby wall in front of them. Each color represents different groups of emotions, and help children learn how to identify emotions. This technique is borrowed from Zones of Regulation by Leah Kapers, which many of the local schools also use.
“This curriculum works,” Voigt said, noting the body of research and evidence showing its effectiveness for this age group.
Though as adults we take social skills for granted, Voigt said, but describing emotions are hard for kids who don’t have the vocabulary to name their feelings in which case the feelings manifest into certain behaviors, most of which involve acting out, whether that be tantrums, fighting or sitting solemnly alone in a corner. Learning to identify why they are feeling a certain way helps them develop appropriate behaviors in response, she noted.
Socialization is a huge component of a child’s success, Voigt added, both in forming positive relationships and connections as well as expanding their communication skills. Therefore, the groups begin with an experiential exercise in which the kids refer to a past event that made them feel and act a certain way in an attempt to identify both the feeling and response. Then they do group activity, a craft and finish with a snack as the children get to spend time together and learn from one another.
As a former Campbell County School District elementary school counselor, Voigt has seen the impact that empowering kids with the language to cope and skills to interact in group settings.
“Children learn so well from one another,” Barbour said. “They bond and click and share experiences and are very engaged.”
This is the first time they’ve launched groups specifically for young children and both say they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the progress they’ve seen during this first session. In a normal year, they suspect the progress would be palpable, but given the fact that the majority of children had missed out on the spring semester at school, they seemed to be even more excited for the peer interaction.
“Kids really missed school,” Barbour said, noting that she’d also heard from parents who struggled to keep their children on track when forced into the role of teacher.
“These Kids Can groups gives them that connection again,” she said.
From a developmental standpoint, she added, this is a pivotal time for kids to learn social skills and form connections. Another bonus of these groups, too, Barbour noted, is that they allow children to learn with and from each other.
Barbour pointed to a group that also encompasses children with physical differences and learning disabilities in which they’re able to talk openly about their various experiences and differences without feeling alienated or ostracized.
She explained the capacity of a child’s compassion for one another and how these bonds help children grow emotionally as they develop shared understanding and tolerance for their peers.
Along with helping develop a child’s emotional IQ, Barbour said, they also spend a lot of time working on self-regulation and controlling their respective behaviors.
“It’s amazing to see how much they grow in a short time,” Barbour said, particularly for kids going through stress at home such as divorce, death of a parent or loved one or other life situations that leave them with questions and feelings they’re not sure how to deal with at such a young age.
Using the summer, she noted, to focus on social skills gives those children a leg up to be more successful when they return next fall given the months missed this year as kids tend to slide backwards when they’re out of practice.
“It’s been a strange year for everyone,” she said, “including kids.”
For questions or to sign up your child for a group, call (307) 682-6699 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most insurances are accepted as well as Medicaid.