Starting counseling sessions with a check-in is something I’ve been doing since my internship in 2011. For a long time, I used Kimochis (you know those little stuffie feelings characters?). I then started using feelings posters, sometimes my feelings/problems size scale, and then for individual sessions I started using this check-in folder almost every time.
For awhile, my group counseling check-ins were less formal – and sometimes I forgot to use them. A few years ago, though, I prioritized including a check-in at the start of every session (based on the needs of the group), plus added in some ending activities for some as well. The students loved it and it came to be a core piece of all of the groups.
Doing a check-in at the start of every session is super helpful for three reasons:
- It’s a routine, and routines provide a sense of stability and consistency and safety. No matter a student’s background, these are important.
- They help to build relationships by allowing students to share how they’re doing (and receive one another’s support) in non-threatening ways. It also gives an opportunity for students to find commonalities and connect with one another.
- They give you a heads up about where a student’s head is at as they start the session. You can be a more effective group leader if you know what’s on their mind (positive or negative). Sometimes check-ins also provide valuable feedback or monitoring in regards to progress their making!
My check-ins are usually in one of two categories: feelings check-ins or highs/lows check-ins.
(Any examples below that are a part of a resource I have, I’ve linked – just click the picture!)
You could super simply just go around and ask students to share how they’re feeling. Sometimes simple is best! And sometimes they need a little more scaffolding. I’ll occasionally use a one-page poster with different feelings graphics and vocabulary to prompt them. Most often I use this setup:
Each group I’m running has a cup (usually labeled by grade as most of my groups were single grade due to scheduling). Inside the cup are clothespins with the students’ names on them. When they enter the room, they grab their group’s cup, get their clothespin, and clip it to the feeling that most represents how they’re feeling.
Once everyone is seated, I give each student a chance to share what they picked and why. It’s incredible the natural connection building and support that often follows without any prompting! Some students also like to move their clothespin throughout the session as their mood changes (often during playing a game depending on how they’re doing!).
As students become more aware and comfortable with their emotions, they might start saying they can’t pick just one because they have more than one feeling at once (yay for double dip feelings!). After validating them, I encourage them to pick one for their clothespin but that they can tell the group about two of them. On occasion, you might have a group that just needs two clothespins per kiddo!
Highs and Lows Check-In
I think emotions are always important, but in some groups, what the students need more is a chance to reflect more specifically on the ups and downs of their week. A picture is worth a thousand words so I’m just going to show you the visuals I use for this from a few different groups.
Because I tend to lose things somewhat frequently, I’ve found myself missing my pretty printed visual a few times and resorted to using my chicken scratch on a white board – and that also totally works!
Having a closing activity each week has a lot of benefits, too (though you have to really be on top of things so you don’t run out of time). I always end groups with a secret group handshake or by students picking a goodbye on the way out the door. A couple of my groups last year really loved ending with our “finger touch affirmations“. This something created for my CBT group, but one of my social skills groups really benefitted, too!
Those are the check-in and closing activities I have the most personal experience with, but some colleagues of mine have also used some “I love you” rituals from Conscious Discipline, and caring rituals from TBRI. One friend in particular incorporates this with her K and 1st groups through children giving one another stickers on their hands each session as a caring ritual. She said it has been wonderful, and it’s something I’d love to try myself!