I based my new children’s book, The Helping Rock, on this framework, as a way to share these concepts with children. The story and accompanying resources can be used in counselling sessions with children and their caregivers. Follow the six steps below to see how.
Many children I support are referred to me because of behaviour and social/emotional challenges at school and at home. These tend to be kids who are well aware of the negative parts of themselves. They usually have low self-esteem, and many don’t know what their own strengths are.
When I spend time with children in therapy, connecting and building a relationship, I pay attention to what engages them and what their interests are. When the child feels accepted and is enjoying themselves, it tends to be easy to notice their strengths. Being fun, funny, loving, apologizing for mistakes, being kind to pets, showing resilience through challenges, being knowledgeable about something – all of these are strengths that I may point out to the child and caregiver. It’s often the first time they have recognized these strengths within themselves.
When I spend time with children in therapy, connecting and building a relationship, I pay attention to what engages them and what their interests are.
The Helping Rock begins with a child named Lani noticing her struggle: she can’t ride a bike and she doesn’t want any help. Mama lets her know that we all have strengths and struggles. In the story, Mama doesn’t point out Lani’s strengths – Lani discovers them on her own.
Normalize that we all have things that are more difficult for us
I then normalize the concept that we all have things that are more difficult for us. In this particular context, I’m not talking about external struggles such as poverty, trauma, or family conflict. I’m talking about the internal strengths and struggles that influence how we cope with “what is” in our lives.
To share this concept with children, I reach for my own vulnerability, and I share with the child and their caregiver some things that are more difficult for me. I normalize that every person on earth has things that are more difficult for them. I share the idea that if they didn’t have this particular struggle, then they would have a different one. We’re all imperfect, and we are all able to strive to grow into our healthiest self. For children, their internal strength is closely connected to the important attachment relationships in their lives. For that reason, I make sure to bring the child’s caregiver into these conversations as well – either during or after the therapy session.
For children, their internal strength is closely connected to the important attachment relationships in their lives.
In The Helping Rock, Mama shares the concept with Lani that we all have strengths and struggles. She then offers Lani a rock to help her remember these concepts. Within the safety of being with her supportive Mama, Lani is able to think about the ways she can help her friends, and ultimately, she is able to accept help in an area that is more difficult for her.
Identify therapeutic goals
This leads easily into identifying therapeutic goals. Once we’ve normalized the concept that we all have things that are more difficult for us, it takes the shame away. Without shame, we can openly acknowledge therapeutic goals such as learning to manage big feelings or gaining social skills. For children, I word these in a less-negative way: “Managing uncomfortable emotions” becomes “learning some things to do with those big, tricky feelings,” and “Gaining social skills” becomes “learning some new ways to figure out tricky friend stuff.”
While passing the helping rock among her friends, Lani grows in her awareness that everyone has gifts to share, and everyone has areas that are more challenging. Lani begins to see the joy and connection sparked by working together. At the beginning of the story, Lani doesn’t want to accept help to learn how to ride a bike. However, at the end of the story, Lani is open to receiving help from her cousin, Tai.
Introduce a growth mindset
Simply put, a growth mindset is the concept that we can always keep learning and growing. What this means in a therapy setting is if the child struggles with managing emotions now, it doesn’t mean it will always be their struggle – they can learn and gain skills to overcome it. Or maybe this will always be a more difficult area for them, but we can help it be a little less difficult with the skills they learn. Sharing this concept with children includes believing it yourself as a therapist – you have to believe that this child can learn these skills.
In The Helping Rock, this concept is illustrated when Mama tells Lani that we all need help sometimes. The concept of a growth mindset is explicitly shared in the accompanying activities at the end of the book, and in the free guidebook.
A growth mindset is the concept that we can always keep learning and growing.
Help the child embrace the full balance of who they are
Social/emotional health includes accepting all aspects of ourselves: our most wonderful qualities, and our trickier, negative, and darker parts. All of it is us. Children learn about accepting all of who they are through experiencing that full acceptance from their caregivers.
Lani’s friends in The Helping Rock show a variety of strengths and struggles. There are also small details included in the background that show people giving and receiving help. In this way, the book demonstrates how we all have struggles and strengths that require us to ask for help and share our gifts. Mama helps Lani notice this both in herself and in others.
Support sharing within the community
Counselling and learning can happen individually, and also in groups and through classrooms. The strength of learning in larger settings is that everyone learns from each other. It provides opportunities to show how all of our strengths and struggles fit together like a puzzle. That way we all help others, and we all receive help.
The Helping Rock celebrates this concept by using the visual of a sparkly rock that Lani and her friends pass around as they each, in turn, help each other. When Lani initiates the passing of the rock, she makes the discovery that the day is brighter when everybody helps each other.
A special note here is that we have an obligation as helping professionals to notice social and economic barriers that create challenges in the lives of those we support. Trauma and poverty create additional stresses and challenges that should be viewed as societal issues that need addressing, and they should never be viewed as personal weaknesses.
Using these six steps as a framework for therapy provides opportunities to help children increase their confidence, embrace a growth mindset, and share their gifts within their community.
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