Term 2, My FRIENDS Youth kicked off in Joondalup yesterday. Here’s a summary of Session 1.

Beanbags were a hit

The idea behind this ‘non-classroom’ set up was to ensure that the participants were as comfortable as possible and that everyone including myself, the facilitator, was on the same level sitting on bean bags. The more comfortable we are, the more likely we are able to engage socially.

Before we started, participants were asked if they knew what this group was all about. Some replied that this was something to help them be more socially confident and to make more friends. I explained that over the next few weeks, we’ll be learning ‘short cuts’ and ‘better ways to deal with stuff’ so we can ‘feel better more often’ which can enable us to enjoy the things we like to do and be brave to try new things. They were also impressed to learn that it’s the same ‘short cuts’ that people learn much later in life – they just get to learn them early.

Establishing group guidelines

Participants were informed that this was a safe space and that everything discussed in session would remain confidential, creating a safe environment where everyone was able to speak freely. However, if there was anything discussed that was important to share with a parent because it affected the safety of the participant, I would have to inform their parent. Everyone agreed and signed their names. One participant commented that they were glad to be doing this amongst a group of new people because there were no pre-conceived judgements.

Getting to know each other

The first activity involved the adolescents getting to know one other, introducing themselves and working in pairs to find out a little more about the person they were interviewing. This was a workbook activity about understanding and accepting differences in other people. Questions in the book included ‘what is your a favourite book or movie?’, ‘who is someone you admire in your family?’ and some were more thought provoking such as ‘if you had the power to make something positive happen, what would it be?’ to encourage discussion and practice social skills.

Being brave

Being brave is easier said than done. Participants were reminded that introducing themselves to someone they haven’t met before and striking up conversation is a pretty brave thing to do. We then discussed verbal and non-verbal clues and that our facial expressions act as a mirror. So what we can practice to feel brave and confident more often is remembering to smile, look people in the eye and remembering our posture. These are things we can do that makes us look confident, even if we might be feeling less confident on the inside.

Aspects of our lives that are important to us

Participants identified several aspects of their lives that were important to them and shared them with the group. They identified family, friends, hobbies etc. and the strengths, values and contributions they can make (or are currently making) in these areas.

Normalising emotional experiences

The FRIENDS acronym is an easy way to remember all the strategies. Session 1, focused on F=Feelings.

Feeling worried is OK. Feeling angry or frustrated is OK. Feeling sad is OK. All feelings are OK. It’s what we do with them that counts.

Once we identify what our body is telling us when we when we feel a certain way, we can then act early to do something about it. It involves listening to our body clues. Participants came up with words that described what happens to our bodies when we feel a certain type of way. Although this was a bit challenging, upon discussion there were a lot of ‘oh yeah’s’ and ‘that’s what happens to me to,’ once we were able to identify a number of involuntary body clues.

Once we understand that all feelings are OK, and that our bodies give us clues as to how we might be feeling this can help us make ‘thumbs up’ (helpful) choices to manage that feeling as opposed to ‘thumbs down’ (unhelpful) choices. More on this next week.

Also, by understanding feelings in ourselves and others, we can become more empathetic and express more kindness to other living creatures.

Kindness is the path to happiness

We ended the session on a positive. Firstly, running through a mindfulness/relaxation strategy and then coming up with something ‘kind thing we might like to do for someone else’ between now and the next time we meet again.

My FRIENDS Youth is an evidence-based resilience Program that is delivered by Resilience Kit in five, two hours sessions. This blog was written by Gemma Lee Taylor, Groups Coordinator and Licensed Partner of FRIENDS Resilience – a set of programs developed by Clinical Psychologist, Prof. Paula Barrett, Brisbane, Australia.