Getting Started-Creating a Safe Place for Wellbeing Groupwork

Suggestions for teachers/facilitators:-


  • Creating a Safe space is the core requirement for meaningful interaction to take place in any type of Group work.
  • This is particularly important when the focus is on Wellbeing which encourages young people to discuss their feelings.
  • The themes arising may be sensitive e.g. grief and loss. If children don’t feel safe and secure in a group it impacts directly on the ease with which they participate.

Below are some suggestions for teachers / facilitators to support the creation of a Safe space. They will not all be relevant to every situation – what is required will vary depending on the age and dynamics in each class, also the purpose of starting any Wellbeing group.

This is not a definitive guide, more a set of pointers to what’s involved, a means to stimulate thinking and help facilitators be prepared.

Good beginnings:

  1. Ice-breakers:

Use creative games to engage the children’s attention from first session. This will get them used to group work and relaxed with each other. Choose imaginative non-threatening icebreakers that are age appropriate. NB: Ice-breaker games for all ages are included in resources link.

  1. Start slowly:

Don’t attempt to get too deep too soon, be aware there are many levels of engagement within a group, and let each child choose their own level.

  1. Ground rules/Agreements:

Discuss and agree Group rules with young people so they understand and have ownership of what is acceptable behaviour. Ask the group directly what they need to feel safe and comfortable in group and write up all responses.  Agreements might include confidentiality i.e. what’s said in the room stays in the room, no interrupting, listen and respect others etc. This can be done in several fun ways NB* please refer to resource link

  1. Basics: Be clear about practicalities – if group runs for just 60 minutes perhaps no breaks, eating food, multiple toilet trips etc – very disruptive on group process.
  2. Openness: – Discuss openly the motivation for the group, its purpose is for children to develop an ability to discuss their Wellbeing and mental health in all its facets.

During the Group it’s important that teachers:

  • Have a good level of comfort talking about feelings, their ability to work around emotional issues will impact on the way the group responds. *NB see teachers resources on self awareness and preparation.
  • Present in a style that is appropriate to the age, stage of development and experience of the group.
  • Have a positive attitude offering support and encouragement as appropriate.
  • Foster a sense of ownership by the young people of the Wellbeing group.
  • Encourage active participation by all of group, bringing their awareness to active listening and respect for others – refer to agreements/rules if necessary.
  • Gently deal with conflict or tension if it arrives letting group brainstorm solutions
  • Be flexible in your approach and be prepared to negotiate and re-adjust programme if necessary.
  • Respect the group’s ability to find workable solutions by themselves with minimum guidance

Participate in the review/ feedback session at the end of each group, encourage reflection.

Tips on creating a safe space for groups

Create Group structure:

Try to use the same room each week; consistency is important for trust building. Establish on what day and time each week Wellbeing group happens. Establish how many weeks group will run for and discuss what is required and who is expected to do what and when.

Listen actively: Foster a positive atmosphere for discussion by actively listening to what your group members have to say.

  • Pay close attention, resist the urge to interrupt, and clarify your understanding by paraphrasing or summarizing others’ comments.
  • If your group members seem hesitant to express themselves, take the lead by voicing your own ideas.
  • Saying what is on your mind will demonstrate to the children that taking risks is ok and it will encourage trust in the group dynamic.

Assign roles:  All children interacting in a group will have their own strengths and weaknesses. Encourage group members to explore what they feel they can contribute to the group and take on roles and tasks that each child feels confident with.

Outline your objectives:  At the beginning of every group, take a few minutes to say what you hope to accomplish that session. Being clear prevents any confusion that might hinder progress.

Be aware of “groupthink”: When working in groups its human nature to alter our opinions and views so they fit in with what we believe the rest of the group is thinking. This is known as “groupthink”. This can cause the group to make a decision that the members of the group would disagree with as individuals. Encourage respect for all opinions and individual expression which will combat conforming and “groupthink”.

Resolve conflicts quickly and fairly: Differences of opinion and challenging behaviour may happen but there is no need to avoid conflict. They can be a healthy part of Group discussions. Conflicts do need to be resolved in each session if the group is to function properly

Ending each session:   Encourage group to reflect on content of that session and share their views. Try always end on a positive note e.g. make time for a mindfulness exercise. Make sure everyone knows what is expected for next group e.g. discuss current session’s scenario with parent etc.

*NB Mindfulness and relaxation exercises available on resource link.

Click here to download useful guidelines for teachers.