Skip to content

How to Work With Groups of Children

There are a variety of settings that rely on social work with groups — behavioral health, support, trauma, and many others. Each time you facilitate a group, no matter how familiar you are with the topic, your audience changes. When you work with both children and adults, it is common to use both one-on-one approaches and group settings. While working with adults and working with children require two different skill sets, the same rules apply to building rapport, setting objectives, developing structure and establishing boundaries.

Group Facilitation

Working one-on-one with a child or overseeing social work with groups of children can be two very different situations. In each scenario, you will find one common behavior — children, particularly in behavioral health settings, try to test the patience of the facilitator. They do this as an attempt to control the group through defiance, not out of any spite for the facilitator. This behavior is not uncommon, but additional behavioral complications can exacerbate the problem.

Adolescents in groups require strict boundaries to properly develop effective relationships with the facilitator and their peers. In a group setting, it is important to establish rules of interaction for everyone. It is also important to note both group and individual needs. In a behavioral setting, adolescents often experience the effects of room dynamics immediately, so they may react to stressors with maladaptive coping skills, such as physical or emotional outbursts.

One-on-One Settings

When working with a child in a one-on-one setting, the same rules apply — establishing rapport is the first step in earning a child’s trust. In an individual setting, without the stimuli of their peers, their natural behaviors manifest more quickly. The benefits of a one-on-one setting include increased focus on the needs of only one child with fewer distractions. It is important to note that maladaptive behavior — including emotional or physical outbursts or episodes of defiance — can occur in a one-on-one setting just as it can in group settings. One-on-one settings benefit from early efforts to establish rapport, and develop structure, particularly in behavioral settings.

Improve Group Treatment

Social work with groups can be challenging. While the topics you facilitate do not change in behavioral settings, your audience does change, and each new group requires adjustments to your approach. It pays to be in tune with the needs and behaviors of the group early into treatment. Be on the lookout for what your group is communicating both verbally and nonverbally, and recognize distractions — including potential distractions.

In addition to understanding your patients, self-awareness is especially important. Practice your approach in order to refine its use before you begin a session, and avail yourself of new ideas whenever you can. Opportunities to learn about group facilitation abound, but the best education comes from actual work. Students in an online master of social work program will encounter many opportunities for supervised practice, which blends classroom theory with real-world application to develop the most effective facilitators in the industry.

Learn about the Louisiana State University online MSW program.


Combat Poverty Agency: Developing Facilitation Skills — A Handbook for Group Facilitators

American Group Psychotherapy Association: Group Interventions for Treatment of Psychological Trauma

Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.

Request More Information!
Request More Information!
*All fields required.

or call 877-670-4521

By submitting this form, I agree, via my digital signature, that Louisiana State University (LSU) may email me or contact me regarding educational services by telephone and/or text message utilizing automated technology at the telephone number(s) provided above. I understand this consent is not required to attend LSU.