We joke in my classroom that anyone is welcome to come join our group therapy sessions at any time. Feeling sad? Need to vent? Want some support? Come join our morning meeting!
Part of our daily routine includes a morning meeting where the class comes together as a group and we check in. While it’s predominately a time for literacy, math and curriculum content, it is also an opportunity for social and emotional skill development. We try to leave time for discussion on anything that is on the kids’ minds, which leads to unpredictable, organic, often pretty funny conversations.
Sometimes after we go through attendance, the calendar, the daily schedule, weather, and other news, I just say: “Is anyone having any problems today?” My class this year was particularly expressive and comfortable with such discussions, so this question would incite all hands to go up. The topics would range from everything from being angry at their parents for not letting them bring candy to school to having nightmares to the difficulties of having a younger sibling, to the fact that they were sick and tired of the rain.
One day, a little boy raised his hand during morning meeting:
“I am so tired of having a baby,” he said (referring to his one year old brother). “He hits me and bites me and I can’t do anything about it.”
The other kids in the class comforted him. Some shared their own tragic situations about their own younger siblings.
He continued: “Last night, I was just sitting in my rocking chair and my baby came over and bit me on the hand for no reason!”
The rest of the class was indignant. They gasped.
“And I got so mad … I didn’t know what to do,” he paused. “I wanted to kill him.”
The class looked at me. I waited for this little boy to continue.
“But I couldn’t because the Elf on the Shelf was there in the room.”
I burst out laughing. – the image of him like a little old man sitting in a rocking chair, and the tiny baby terrorizing him and his helplessness as the Elf on the Shelf looked on while he considered killing his baby brother, was too funny.
The other kids did not think this was funny at all. They continued to express empathy for their friend with the baby brother.
One of them said, “He sounds like a monster baby.”
We all laughed. The little boy smiled too. His body relaxed a little. The class suggested ways to help; some ludicrous (shoot him like a slingshot across the room) and some more pacifist (go tell your mom), but overall I was struck by the camaraderie and total support of the group.
“Group therapy” is good for everyone. It fosters connections between children as they identify with what another is struggling with. It helps bring perspective to problems that seem overwhelming and isolating to one child. And it ultimately solidifies the bonds of the community; creating trust and intimacy among the group.
The Monster Baby became a legend in our classroom. Every time he came with his mother to pick up his brother from school, it was like Elvis was in the house. Someone would shout that he had arrived and the class would surround him and stare at him while he babbled and smiled sweetly.
“He doesn’t really seem like a monster,” some kid eventually remarked.
And even his brother had to agree.