Nurture Groups are one of the most important practices of TBRI, with the goal of teaching relational and regulation skills through play. They also provide a wonderful opportunity to build connection between children and caretakers.
What does a Nurture Group look like?
Children sit in a circle, ideally next to an adult buddy. If a one-to-one ratio is impossible, then adults would be strategically placed throughout the circle.
Nurture Groups begin by going over three rules that were adopted from TheraPlay. "No Hurts!" "Stick Together!" & "Have Fun!"
Children are asked to "check their engines". Are their engines in the red (ex. angry, excited), blue (ex. tired, sad) or green (ex. calm and ready to learn)? Every child is given the opportunity to think about their body and emotions and decide where their engine is. While we teach them that it's okay to be red and blue at times, we always talk about how to get to green, the optimal condition for learning. Bubble gum and suckers are calming and can help children get from red to green. Peppermints and sour candy are alerting and can help children get from blue to green. Stretches and breathing techniques are also taught and practiced in group time.
Every child is given the chance to answer this question, but can always opt out. Questions such as, "If I could have any super power, I would..." or "My mood is like what type of weather today?" help caregivers know how the child is feeling that day and can even give insight into a child's self concept.
Children are then led through an activity designed to teach relational and regulation skills. One example is teaching body space by using hula hoops. Participants put hula hoops around their waist and have to use their words to ask for a hug. Hula hoops can also be put around things and participants have to ask before taking. A key component of these activities is practicing it the wrong way first. This is usually fun and bonding for the caretaker and child. They always end by practicing the right way. Children learn key scripts during this playful time, such as "ask with respect". After practicing what it looks like to not ask with respect and then to role play what it looks like with respect, the children have a template and muscle memory to draw from the next time they are upset and mouthy with an adult. When they hear the words, "Ask again with respect," they have a far greater chance to be successful in making good choices.
Children learn to give care in Nurture Groups by asking their buddy if they have a hurt and offering a bandaid as a gesture of care. They get the opportunity to receive care by telling their buddy where they hurt and accepting a bandaid. It can be an inside hurt or outside hurt and participants can always opt out. Very often, children open up and talk about heart hurts during this time.
If there is a buddy for every child, feeding can be a powerful element of Nurture Groups. Buddies are given the chance to feed each other a piece of candy. This symbolic act of being cared for is especially important for children who have a history of neglect.
Nurture Groups end with a simple connecting activity, such as sending a hand hug around the circle. Again, participants always have the option to opt out. Opting gives them autonomy and a voice. Most of the time, however, children want to participate and find joy and connection in Nurture Groups.
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