Pillboxes: Creative Ideas for School Counseling

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Target’s Bullseye’s Playground (did you know that’s the real name for what we all call the “dollar spot”??) is great, but I’ve also been loving some finds at the dollar store. On one of my recent trips, my eye was drawn to the pillboxes. I had no plan in mind but just knew I could think of some great uses for one. As soon as I got to school the next day, my mind starting racing. A $1 “tool” that’s easy to find, has several uses, and is engaging to kiddos? Yes, please!

And without further ado – 5 different ways to use a pillbox in school counseling:

Kindness Missions

Students love “secrets” and every school needs some extra kindness sprinkled around it.

This works both as an intervention for students struggling to show prosocial behaviors (especially those that truly don’t know what to do) and for students that just need a little extra support. Depending on the developmental level of the kid, you can either co-create the missions or make them ahead of time to put them in.

They can be as general as “Help someone that looks like they need it,” or as super specific as “Compliment someone today who answers a question right in class today,” or somewhere in between like “Pick up and throw away some trash today that doesn’t belong to you.”

Each morning, your identified student (or students if you have more than one pillbox) stop by your office to receive their mission.

Bonus: This totally works for a whole homeroom as well!

pillboxes - kindness mission

Behavior Foci

Sometimes we have kiddos that don’t need a daily behavior plan but need to put some extra focus into their choices throughout the day to keep them on track. Or maybe they had a daily behavior plan that they exited from and they need a booster.

For students like that, work with them on creating some specific behaviors or traits they want to focus on. Write them out together and have them come see you each morning to see what the day’s focus is … and for a little pep talk. These can be things like:

Today I will listen more than I talk.” or “Honesty” or “Using my stress ball when I’m frustrated.

For this use of the pillbox as well as for the kindness missions use, the strips of paper also double as reminder bracelets for the kiddos to sport throughout the day. A special secret bracelet from the school counselor’s office is a win in just about any kid’s book!

Pillboxes - Behavior targets

Reminders for Skill Generalization and Carryover

Have you ever done great work with a student in individual or group counseling and then they forget to use the skills you’ve taught them? Me too. It can be frustrating.

The pillbox can be used as a fun sort of “homework” to encourage skill generalization and carryover. Write your student little reminders, one for each day between sessions, for them to open and read.

For example:

“Remember to use your snake breath today before guided reading group!”

“I know you can control your voice today!”

“Ask 1 classmate a question about their favorite TV show to practice starting a conversation with someone.”

Behavior Flip Box

Token boards are awesome but sometimes you don’t have access to a laminator or you’ve run out of velcro. You can accomplish the same idea with a pillbox!

Tape/glue your student’s favorite little images onto each flap and open them all up. For each time (or time block) that they exhibit the targeted behavior, the student gets to close a flap. When they’re all closed, boom, reward!

The closing and the “click” gives students the tactile and visual response of the token board but with less prep.

pillboxes - behavior plan alternative

Mystery Reinforcement

Many of us do “Check In-Check Out” or some other sort of individual behavior plan with students. For lots of them, it’s key that they pick their motivator at the start of the day. For some others, a surprise is even more motivating.

With your students or on your own, create slips of paper representing different rewards. If they earn their points/tickets/tokens/etc., they get to lift the flap and see what they’ve earned that day!

Pillboxes - mystery reinforcement

Revealing the Group Session’s Topic

Every week that kiddos come in for small group counseling, their first question is “What are we going to do today?!”

If you are running a group that is 7 sessions or fewer, put a piece of paper with the topic or activity written for each inside. At the start of each session, have a student flip open the box and read the paper.

It could be as simple as “ClassDojo video” or “The Bad Seed” or “CandyLand” or it could be an I Can statement tied to the skill you’re teaching and practicing like “I can persevere when my work is challenging” or “I can use my social filter.”

Emotion Coded Bead Storage

Many of us keep beads in our offices to use for making keychains or bracelets. What if we coded some of them by emotion and asked students to share out about examples of times they had each emotion as they created their bracelet?

Or maybe you only include “positive” or “comfortable” emotions and the keychain is full of warm memories. You could also make each type of bead represent a deep breathing technique (snake breath, dragon breath, horse lips, etc.) and their bracelet or keychain represents their favorites that they can do in order when they need to regulate.

pillboxes - emotions

Helpful Thoughts

If CBT is your jam, then you might spend a fair amount of time working with students on their thoughts. This is tough work on their little brains though, and they often need some extra reinforcement.

helpful thoughts

When I have a student I’m doing some cognitive work with, we pick out some helpful thoughts that they want to focus their brains on and put them into the box. Each day, they stop by my office and open up the day’s slot, read the thought, and carry it in their pocket for the day.

Joke of the Day

We’ve all got some pretty great training and degrees under our belts, but laughter is sometimes still the best medicine. Maybe you have a little corkboard outside your office and there’s a student whose job it is to open up a box opening and hang the joke of the day on it.

Or maybe you like to have a “special” joke available each day for after really heavy sessions with students when some levity is needed before they head back to class.

Or maybe the jokes are for teachers. I’m betting you have at least 1 teacher at your office each day that’s stressed out and feeling a bit negative. Invite them to flip a lid and take out a joke (or meme).

Pillboxes - jokes


Pin this post later and check out our other creative ideas for school counseling!

pillboxes in school counseling