When the group loves to laugh
Artemis Pack has 8 chapters this year. And each pack has a unique personality, based on the kids in the group. One pack is obsessed with anime, and they swear like sailors. Another pack is populated with artists who love the ephemera of the den, the crystals and teacups and altars. And one pack is filled with middle schoolers who love to laugh. They are irreverent, sarcastic, mischievous and delightful. And I love this about them. But how do you make space for a group of kids to open up and share in a serious way that might go out of their comfort zone? For a group that loves to laugh, this can be a challenge.
A few weeks ago, one of the pack members asked if we could talk about gender identity and sexual orientation soon. Many others perked up and agreed that they also wanted to have this conversation. So I asked them, “do you want to have this conversation in a serious way, or a fun way?”
I wasn’t trying to push them. If they had said “fun” we could have played games or made art or done intentionally silly role plays. But they said “serious”. So this week, I asked them to talk it through a little more. And I was surprised by how much it brought up. Here are a few of the sentiments shared as we talked;
“I don’t like to be serious because when I am, someone usually ends up hurting my feelings.”
“It’s hard for me to be sincere. I don’t know why.”
“My face just makes all these weird expressions when I’m thinking or listening and that makes my friends laugh. But I’m not trying to be funny.”
“Listening to other people’s feelings makes me feel super awkward”
“I’m worried that if I say something serious, people will make fun of me later, even if they don’t do it here.”
Remarkably, even though these were (in my opinion) honest, vulnerable, serious, statements, they were shared in a lighthearted way. There was lots of smiling, eager hand raising and affirmation when others shared the same sentiment. We moved on to develop a plan for how we might make future conversations feel positive.
First, we agreed to be SINCERE. We like the word “sincere” more than “serious” because you can be sincere and still laugh. There was lots of reiteration around laughter as an expression of many feelings. “Seriousness” can feel depressing or scary. If we can share with sincerity but still laugh, maybe what we talk about will feel more accessible.
The pack also suggested a few guidelines, like limiting the amount of time we spend on sincere topics. We still want to have fun and play games during group. They also thought it would be helpful to limit how long individuals share, so that everyone gets a chance to talk. Lastly, we plan on creating a non-verbal signal to use if your feelings get hurt.
And even though some pack members wanted to pile rules on rules on rules intended to protect people’s feelings, I insisted that we try to keep it simple, holding the intention of being sincere while we talk and while we listen.
I am so excited to see where this breakthrough conversation takes us. I have no doubt that irreverent silliness will still rule the majority of our group dynamic in this pack. However, I’m sharing this conversation because it’s an example of what can happen when you don’t push a group into sharing, but allow them to lead the way. I know that I’ll be able to gently remind them that they want to be sincere sometimes, and that we can find a way to do it that feels good.
Do you have a kid in your life who loves to laugh? If you do, and you are trying to navigate how to have authentic, sincere conversations, here are 4 tips
Ask “can we be sincere?” If they say “no” consider ways to engage that are creative and lighthearted (art projects! Ask them to share a song that represents their feelings! Role play and let it be silly)
Keep it short. Frequency is more valuable than length when comes to authentic sharing.
Be brave when they feel awkward or embarrassed. Make room for those feelings to surface before anything else comes out.
Model authentic sharing and listening. If you do it, they will be much more likely to offer their thoughts and feelings in return.
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