I’ve been running online children’s workshops for the first time this past week on key topics parents often tell me their children struggle with; confidence building, coping tools for anxiety, and managing emotions. Whilst I had no doubts I would be able to give the children really useful strategies they could start using straight after the workshop, I wasn’t prepared in any way for the inadvertent positive side effects. These have fundamentally changed my view of children working in groups, and I hope they do for you too. You see I, like most parents, had wrongly assumed anxious children would feel too wary to share their experiences with other children, for fear of being judged. I had wrongly assumed children lacking confidence, or having difficulties managing their emotions would stand on the sidelines, observing, taking it all in yet they’d be unwilling to share their feelings and experiences in such a public forum.
I know research repeatedly shows the power of children working in groups; there are whole schools of therapy which use group work to support children battling anxiety, grief, bullying, and depression. I had, however, allowed myself to fall pry to those negative stereotypes and stigmas around supporting mental health, which inhibit our children’s progress. I hope by sharing the feedback which has come directly from the parents whose children have taken part in the four workshops I’ve ran so far, will help you gain a better insight into the power of group-work too.
- Children see first-hand they are not alone
This has possibly been the most powerful side effect of group-work as children witness first-hand they are not alone in struggling to manage their emotions, lack of confidence, and anxieties. Whilst we might tell our children over and over again that it’s normal to worry about things, to feel nervous, and that others equally find new situations challenging; nothing really hits the point home more than hearing other children sharing their experiences and telling the same or similar stories to you. Once children feel truly heard and accepted they can then go about using the strategies they are taught. Without this feeling of understanding and acknowledgement children don’t always make the connection between their particular challenge and the techniques we attempt to teach them or read about. The group, because of its greater numbers, also creates a larger pool of information for them to dip into. Every child will ask their own questions. Children therefore come away from a group session armed with so much more information than they would from an individual session – no question is left unasked and no question is ever deemed silly.
- They share their new found skills with others
I’ve had feedback from parents telling me their children have excitedly explained the new concepts they’ve learnt, such as ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts, to them after the workshops. They have even caught conversations between siblings using the new terminology and vocabulary they have learnt. Being in a group of like-minded peers does wonders at lifting the collective knowledge base and by sharing their knowledge with others, we know children are much more likely to retain it. It’s only when we become a teacher to others do we truly understand the information we are taking in. As parents we need to revel in their excitement and desire to tell us all they have learnt, and to then gently ask them how they might use it in different situations, and how we might be able to help. We then need to have the wisdom to listen and allow our children to take the lead and allowing them to help themselves.
- Children becoming more resourceful
This one, for me, is the gold standard of side-effects. When children begin to take ownership of managing their own emotions and creating their own unique toolkit, I genuinely feel my work is done. Whilst I teach children a whole range of tools and strategies to help them I always emphasise the need for them to experiment. What works for one child, doesn’t always work for another; what works in one situation doesn’t always work as well in another, which is why children need a toolkit to refer back to time and time again. Understanding their own uniqueness is key and being in situations where other children are also trying techniques which push them out of their comfort zone is hugely powerful. Our children can then learn from what others have tried, and the knowledge their share of their own experiences.
The feedback I have received has genuinely made may heart sing, and has made me reflect on how I might better help children moving forward. I personally feel the children have been so incredibly wise and taught me far more than I ever imagined, and it will profoundly change the way I work in future. That’s not to say I will stop working with children one to one, absolutely not. I will simply elevate group work for both children and parents onto the same status, as one to ones, as it can be more impactful and provide more immediate results for some families.