As a special education teacher, I also often wear the hat of being a counselor and therapist, too. I think that is true for most educators today. While we are teaching fractions, how to write a narrative, and identifying the difference between a state and a country, we are also working on building positive social skills and help kids work through their own problems. So, when you notice a child is having a conflict, how can you help him or her open up to start talking about it? The first goal is to help kids and young adults see us as an adult they can trust. Someone they can come to for help and be okay with opening up more than usual.
Here are some effective strategies for helping kids open up and share:
1. Ask them to draw a picture. Drawing a picture can be very telling and therapeutic at the same time. Ask kids to draw how they feel or how they see a certain situation happening. This can be especially helpful for children with limited or weak communication skills. Once the drawing is completed, follow up by asking several clarifying questions, like, “I see that you drew yourself in red, what do you think that means?”. You will be surprised with the responses you get. Drawing can be a great outlet.
2. Ask them to tell a story. You can even use this in the hypothetical-sense. For example, you might ask, “Tell me a story about what might happen at recess today”. There is something about telling a story that is more innocent and open than sharing details about a conflict for kids.
3. Have them write in a journal on their own. Ask the student to write independently for a period of time while you model doing the same. Tell him or her that they can write about anything but they have to keep writing until the timer goes off. Then, when time is up, share what you are comfortable sharing in your journal and ask the child to do the same. Not only can this be great to get a discussion going, but it teaches the value skill of journal writing to share thoughts, too.
4. Weave questions into gameplay. Don’t ask the challenging questions head on. Instead, begin playing a game (really could be anything) and intermittently ask questions throughout the game. This will allow kids to open up and share more without feeling the pressure of just a face-to-face conversation.
5. Use conversation starter questions. Pre-made task card questions are best for this. You can ask the questions yourself or allow students to take turns asking the questions while playing a game. It’s helpful to also mix up the type of questions asked on cards, with some about interests, family, school, and more.