Tiny Coping Boxes
Yesterday a member of the Facebook group Elementary School Counselor Exchange (an awesome group, and well worth joining if you're on FB) shared a pin from Vermont artist Cynthia Emerlye showing her "Instant Comfort Boxes." As it happens, I had come across this gem of an idea from Cynthia last month and absolutely fallen in love.
The idea is simple. You ask your student to think of a feeling they often need help with like anger, anxiety, grief, or jealousy. They write the word on the outside of a small matchbox, and decorate it however they'd like. Inside they write a word or phrase that they can take a peek at whenever they're having that feeling, like "breathe" or "you are enough."
I stocked up on matchboxes (at Target or the grocery store they're about $1 for a package of 12), and two weeks ago tried this activity with my 4th grade boys' anxiety group, a Kindergartener who's looking for an adoptive home, and a 1st grader who lost her mom a year ago.
Every one of those kids LOVED the project, even the boys who are not terribly crafty or artistic. One of them has pulled his out of his pocket every time I've seen him since. He wants to make another for when he's feeling angry.
I'm sorry I didn't take pictures of any of the kid-created ones. The photo above is the box I made for my Kindergartener in foster care. You can see I added a tactile element---a tiny felt heart that she can rub with her fingertip. We wrote down the names of people who love her on a small piece of paper and folded it up to place inside as well. Foster mom reports that she reads it to herself every morning before school and every night before bed.
The first grader wrote, "Mom is with me" inside hers. She keeps it in her desk.
I love love LOVE this! Try it with your kiddos. It packs quite a therapeutic punch for something so small. Let me know if you come up with any other ideas of how to make them even more awesome!
The Flame of Friendship
Girl drama. It's out of control in grade 4. Herds of girls are my door daily, sobbing: she's stealing my friend or I was her friend first. The jealousy, hurt feelings, and need to control others are sapping my mental energy if not my actual will to live.
Anyway, I've been going nuts trying to figure out a way to make it stop. I've had meetings with girls individually and in groups, have had the principal read them the riot act, have spoken with a few parents, and have played both the Good Cop and the Bad Cop---all to no avail.
FInally, over the weekend, I snapped awake at 4:30 a.m. with the idea of using a flame as an analogy for friendship.
Today at snack time I called down six of the most frequent of the frequent fliers. We went outside (so I wouldn't set off any smoke alarms), and I pulled out a box of 24 tea light candles. I shook half a dozen out of the box, and lit the first one, telling the girls it represented the friendship with their closest friend.
Then I said, "Imagine that now one of you decides to make a new friend." I used the flame from the first candle to light the second one. Then I asked, "Did the flame on the first friendship get any smaller when I lit the second flame?" (A: no).
I repeated that action again, and asked the same question---did the flame get any smaller when a new flame was lit? Again, no. I asked how many candles they thought I could light without the flame changing (A: a lot!).
We talked about how the human heart isn't like a drinking glass that can only hold a limited amount. It's more like the flame that can grow as much as it needs to without being diminished. One of the girls asked, "But what if someone is stealing your friend?" So we had to talk about how no one can "steal" someone else unless that person wants to be "stolen."
Finally, the climax of my demo was to show what happens if you try to protect your friendship and not let anything or anybody else come close. I put a small glass upside down over the first tea light, and in just a couple of seconds the flame went out. I defined the word "smother" for them. Smothering your friends doesn't protect your friendship, it damages or even destroys it.
After my demonstration was over, we brainstormed a list of positive behaviors that "fan the flame of friendship" and negative behaviors that "smother the flame of friendship." Here's the T-chart I gave each of them.
I know this was kind of an advanced concept for 4th graders. Heck, I know some adults who still struggle with it! What I'm really jazzed about though is the potential this flame analogy has for expansion (like, letting your light shine?). I'm going to keep thinking about this and maybe try and come up with a set of Flame of Friendship activities for next year. Stay tuned!