When I was in seventh grade (middle school), we had to take a survey to find out which kids in your class you most trusted and valued as a friend. So out of 30 or so 7th and 8th graders, I was chosen to attend the Natural Helpers retreat, because I was deemed a good friend and listener by my peers.
I guess the intention of this group was to create kids who were mentors to their peers and to learn valuable communication skills in helping others solve their own problems. At the time I thought it was a pretty cool concept and I guess I still find it to be a good concept. The idea was that we weren’t supposed to give advice, rather help our friends come to their own conclusion/solution to a problem they were facing. We did this by learning a series of 5 steps/questions…one of which I really can’t remember. They were:
1) I see you are looking a little down/seem mad/look stressed, what’s going on?
2) What do you think you can do about it?
3) What would happen if you did that?
4) What are you going to do?
5) Let me know the outcome and how things go.
I don’t recall using this tactic a lot afterwards, but I did go to it from time to time. I always felt insincere when I spouted them off. I know now that you have to ask them the questions in your own way and be genuinely concerned.
Anyway, back to the retreat…it was held one county over from ours in Muhlenberg County at the Lake Malone Inn (which was owned at the time by the Everly Brothers of Cathy’s Clown and Wake Up little Suzie fame…they were from there). This was one of my few trips away from home with other school members and I really thought it was a big deal. We got all the candy we could eat and got meal stipends to eat in the dining hall (it seemed fancy, but I think that’s just because I was a kid).
We had to do little challenges and communication exercises, which were awkward cause they made you pair up with the cute 8th grade boy you never ever talked to. Also, we had to bring an item to share with the group that meant something to us. Geez, when it comes to sentimental stuff I still struggle with that one. I brought sheet music from my sister’s wedding that I played piano for (lame, I know). I think I said it that it meant a lot to me to share in that time with my sister or family. We went around the circle sharing items…trophies, championship net pieces, etc. When it got to this one girl named Tabby Renfrow (I’m pretty sure that was her name), everyone started boo-hooing cause she shared a picture of her brother who had recently died in a car crash. I’m sure for an 8th grader to show that much emotion practically in front of a bunch of peers who were actually strangers would be hard to do. I don’t think I would ever or would ever want to put my emotions out there like that.
Anyway, I guess I felt special at the time, cause we were the inaugural group that got to go. Every year after that other kids got to go. We still had school meetings and what not (I don’t know really what those entailed other than brushing up on our learned skills).
Oh, and this was an incredibly awkward time in my life as evident by this picture. I was all hair, glasses, and braces. You barely even notice my face. I remember I would put tie ribbons on those plain Goody brand barettes and I basically wore my hair like this every day, cause I didn’t know how to fix it any other way. Geez. 7th grade was a hard time in the world of swell, y’all.
So if you have a conversation with me and have a problem, don’t be surprised if I pull one of these tactics out of my sleeve. You’ll know where it came from. That’s just the little therapist in me.
Until tomorrow Swellions!