The Nuts and Bolts of Running A Successful Girls Self Esteem Counseling Group

Helping a young person become who they want to be takes time and encouragement. It takes paying attention to what sparks a passion. . We listen, we encourage, and we provide the opportunity to uncover each young person’s unique interests.

So many counselors tell me that they are a bit intimidated about running a group, or that they feel when they tried in the past, their groups were unsuccessful.  Truth be told, it really isn’t difficult, but there are a few basic tips to help make it run smoothly, go well, and be fun.

1.  Be Intentional.  This is perhaps the key.  Know what skills you want your kids to have before beginning your group.  It’s the Sean Covey model of “Begin with the end in mind.”  So true.  You need to know where you want to go so you can map out how you’re going to get there.  A good curriculum, will help you with this if you don’t have that much time to do all the planning, or you’re not sure the best way to map out your path.  

2.  Find a Space.  My new office is so small–like storage closet size.  I can’t get 4 girls in comfortably, so I had to search around and find a space.  When looking for a room use these guidelines:

  • Room for games where kids need to get up and walk around
  • Space for smaller sub groups to work
  • Accessible to all members
  • Table space is large enough for crafts, games, and lunches
  • Close access to restrooms
  • Area is free from hazards
  • There is a spot for trash, recyclables, and clean up stuff

3.  Have Supplies Ready.  Just like any lesson plan, you can’t just open a book seconds before the class shows up and expect to be 100% ready to go.  Preview what you are doing ahead of time and have things ready.  This is especially true if your groups are during lunch.  I tend to have my basic supplies always ready and within reach.  My colored pencils, markers, and pens/pencils are in tins that sit in the center of my table and I always have a stack of paper sitting underneath because you never know when you’ll need it.  I also find it handy to put my curriculum in binders and then have plastic folders for each session with usable materials of that week’s lesson.  If you need to go into another room, get a small bin to hold all you materials as you travel to a different room.  I find if I don’t do this I’m running back to my room for glue sticks, or a stapler, or pencil sharpener at least 3 times during a meeting time.    As you collect materials for your counseling groups here’s a list of some basics that should help you always be ready.

  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • Pencil sharpeners ( I just keep a few manual ones around)
  • Blank copy paper
  • Scissors (8 is a good number)
  • Scotch tape
  • Stapler (1 is good, 2 is better)
  • Dice (I like the large foam dice you can get in the dollar stores)
  • Small ball
  • Tongue Depressors (these are great for writing down icebreaker questions)
  • Glue sticks (3-4 typically are enough)
  • Double sided tape (I use this but don’t let the kids use it.  Mostly to take paper dice or hand things around the room)
  • Tissues
  • Napkins or paper towels
  • String (I never expect to use string, but am surprised I find myself grabbing it a lot)
  • Lysol wipes–especially if you meet at lunch

4.  Plan Your Meeting Dates.  Knowing when you are going to meet is as important as where are you going to meet.  Plan all these dates in advance especially if you have to rotate times in the day or days of the week because of rotating schedules.  For wee little loves in the primary grades, a 30 minute time spot will be long enough, however, if you have to pick kids up or drop them off, extend the time to 45 minutes once a week.  For upper Elementary and Middle School, I would love to have a whole 45 minutes but I am typically limited to a 20 minute lunch.  I like to then have the kids 2 days per week so we can finish and talk about our lesson. Extending an 8 week group to 16 weeks can work, but you have to spend at least 1/2 of your second session reviewing what they did the prior week.  2 back to back days is really better.

5.  Select Members.  Have in place a selection criteria.  Are you sending nomination sheets to teachers?  Are you getting requests from parents?  Whatever your process, get your kids.  4-6 kiddos for Primary is good, 6-8 for older kiddos.  I wouldn’t do more than 8, if you do then there is no time to talk and process.  You want to have enough time where kids get to share their insights, questions, concerns, and ideas AND have time to learn a skill during each session.  Too many kids prevents this.  

6. Screen Members.  You need to meet with the kids before you put them into a group so you can get their buy in.  They need to know why they were selected, what the purpose of the group is, what they will be doing, what the group rules are, and they also need to be willing to follow the group rules.  If they aren’t willing to participate or they won’t follow the rules, then they are not ready for group counseling.  You may need to see them individually and work with them to be group ready.
7.  Get your baseline data.  Why were these kiddos referred?  What’s the data that show their discipline, attendance and academic achievement?  Also give a pretest so you can see if their attitudes and mindset improves over the course of the group as well.  Don’t forget to collect ending data too.  That post test is equally as important.

8.  Have a curriculum.  I have several curriculum I use for self esteem.  
  • StarBound is really great for middle schoolers and upper elementary.  It’s focus is empowerment and working in teams and leadership development.  It’s perfect for strong girls who are seen as “bossy”, “opinionated” or “difficult” and gives them opportunity to take their strengths and work with others.  

  • Wonderfully Me is also great for middle schoolers and upper elementary.  I’m using this with 4th graders right now.  It’s perfect for those kids that feel like no one likes them and that they have no friends.  Most of my kids in this group are pretty quiet, although I have 2 that can really speak their minds!  The focus is on looking at their inner strengths, changing negative thoughts into positive ones, and learning strategies to reduce stress and anxiety.  It also uses mindfulness and CBT skills.  

  • Unique You-nicorns is for primary elementary girls.  It focuses on what makes them unique, healthy friendships and communication skills.  It’s perfect for those wee loves that struggle with friendships and get pushed around a lot by their “friends”. 

No matter, what curriculum you use, just make sure it leads back to #1–Be Intentional.  You can’t help make the changes needed, if you never identify the needs or you don’t teach skills that are solution focused.  

9.  Believe in the process.  You need to really believe that what you are doing is going to make a difference.  You also have to believe, you may not get to witness those changes that are being made.  It takes time to develop new habits, grow a mindset, practice coping skills and use them during the situations you practiced for, and change behavior.  I like to send follow up forms to teachers and parents after (sometimes a month after the group ended) to see if they are noticing improvements.  While I don’t get every form back, I will get some and they usually are very positive and show growth!  

10.  Have fun.  You can’t expect your kids to have fun, if you’re not having fun.  So let yourself go, and enjoy.  

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