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Three Fun Activities When Teaching a Mental Health Group

written by: LauraLMSW • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

The identification and implementation of fun activities to use in mental health groups is critical when working with children. The success of the mental health group depends on the investment and involvement of the children in each activity.

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    Where Are You From?

    Identifying introductory fun activities to use in mental health groups contributes to the development of group cohesion. Each group member has a unique story and perspective to share. Understanding where each person is coming from will help the group to relate to one another and work together. The creation of family portraits often reveals unconventional dynamics and a plethora of diverse connections or relatedness. The presence or absence of biological, extended or fictive family members is significant. One way to make this activity special is to search for a frame from internet images that will border the page that the family will be drawn on. After copying and pasting the frame onto a blank document, you can insert a text box at the top center of the page that says, “My Family.” The depicted figures in this “formal portrait” represent the people, places and things that the child values as family. According to Selekman (1997), through children’s artwork we gain access to family conflicts less accessible by verbal communication, as the artistic metaphors often reveal how they view themselves and significant relationships in their families. Therefore, a family portrait can serve as an introductory activity as well as a therapeutic tool for interpretation.

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    Paper Plate Masks

    Mental health groups often require students to explore and identify their emotions. This process is not easy for some children to access or share. The use of paper plate masks with tongue depressor handles may help a child to communicate elicited emotions during various group activities and also reveal individualized feelings which only they can define. It is helpful to provide the basic descriptions for feelings such as happy, mad, scared or sad, but the artistic expression of these emotions for each child should not be guided or restricted. A wild card emotion could be presented as a create your own feeling mask which may reveal a hidden anxiety, resiliency or unpredictable outcome valuable to the group efforts. Children should have the freedom to create additional masks as new feelings enter their awareness. Smith and Nylund (1997) described the utilization of masks with children in order to explore what experiences they associate with each feeling. This exploration may result in enhanced artistic embellishment often reflective of heightened emotional awareness.

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    Rotating Feeling Boxes

    Fun activities to use in mental health groups that explore emotions can facilitate in the development of an open and safe environment for expression. Decorating boxes with an open slot at the top for the insertion of anonymous contributions can be a group project that will foster future activities. For example, a worry box would allow for the collection of students' worries on individual slips of paper. As the box becomes full, the group could explore the anonymously identified sources of anxiety. As the group reads each worry aloud, they can relate and share similar fears while brainstorming advice they would give the person who had the worry. This activity allows children to address emotions that they may not share otherwise. The support and interconnectedness revealed can lessen feelings of isolation that mental health group members may experience. Group members may gain a sense of competence that will be beneficial as they confidently face their own emotions. Reinecke and colleagues (2003) identified that the group process allows participants to overcome feelings of shame and the desire for secrecy as they realize that they are not alone. Teachers working with mental health groups can capitalize on the students desire to belong. Group engagement will evolve out of shared experiences and discovered commonalities that unite the members.

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    References

    Reinecke, M. A., Dattitlio, F.M. & Freeman, A. (2003). Cognitive therapy with children and adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.

    Selekman, M. D. (1997). Solution focused therapy with children: Harnessing family strengths for systemic change. New York: The Guilford Press.

    Smith, C. & Nylund, D. (1997). Narrative therapies with children and adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press.

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    Useful Websites

    The lesson plans featured below are very informative and include grade levels, descriptions, goals and objectives:

    Mental Health Lesson Plans (http://lessonplancentral.com/lessons/Health/Mental_Health/index.htm)

    Support for a variety of mental health concerns:

    Mental Health America: Children's Mental Health Resource List (http://www.nmha.org/go/children)

    It is never too early to help your child develop mental wellness:

    Preschool Mental Health Activities (http://scruggle.tripod.com/hartstringspreschoolideas/id8.html)