By Jennifer O'Rourke, MA
At MGH Aspire, we use the word ‘termination’ to describe the natural conclusion of a program or group (sometimes forever, sometimes temporarily). For our participants, termination can be a difficult experience because it means their group will no longer have the same structured coming-together, routines or relationships. The abstract nature of the termination process can bring about confusing and overwhelming feelings—sadness, anger, joy, confusion. As a result, we handle termination very thoughtfully, as a teaching and therapeutic process. Using several best-practice strategies, including transparency with participants and comforting support, we take steps to ensure that termination is a positive and productive experience for all parties (children, families, staff, caregivers) involved.
What strategies are considered best practices for termination?
- Consistency: Despite a group or therapeutic relationship coming to an end, it is crucial to keep the group’s structure consistent to ensure participant success.
- Preview: It is important to preview any transition in advance as the termination of a group approaches; give children frequent reminders so they are not surprised by an unexpected change.
*Use your knowledge of your child and his or her developmental level to decide when the best time to begin previewing a group termination is without creating added anxiety.
- Validation: Provide children with a “safe space” to express their feelings about termination; normalize and remind children that it’s natural to feel sad, angry, happy, confused, or all the above!
What termination activities do we use at MGH Aspire?
Termination activities at MGH Aspire vary depending on a group’s process, age and developmental level, and interests. Some of the activities we use include:
- Creating and signing yearbooks as a group
- Giving out certificates or awards for group member participation
- Verbal processing as a group about feelings and how to manage feelings
- Compliment circles or cards
- Drawing and sharing your favorite memory from group
- Writing letters to a staff member or group member who made your group a success
- Creating a list of preferred activities and spending extra time on them
- Planning a special activity that incorporates everyone’s thoughts and ideas
- Direct instruction about termination and the duality of feelings
Parents and caregivers: You know your child best. Listen to your instincts when thinking about how to support your child during the termination process. If you are looking for further strategies of support, try any of the below:
- Create a “safe space” at home for your child to discuss and process with you how he or she is feeling about termination—be accepting of any thoughts, ideas, or emotions presented.
- Check in with your child around termination time to let them know you are there to listen and support; “Hi, I know group is ending soon. How are you feeling? What are you thinking?”
- Normalize termination as an embraced area in your own life; model acceptance of endings and demonstrate an open and positive view toward endings (ex. “This is the last time I’ll be visiting my old co-worker. I’m feeling a little sad, but I know that I will find someone else to work with who I will like just as much!”).
- Incorporate consistent and familiar group games, activities, and routines to your child’s home or school life when possible. If your child loved playing Marble Run during free choice at group, invest in a small set for her to use at home after school.
- Remind your child that even though group is over, he or she can still see preferred peers and staff members in future settings or through outside playdates.