23 Creative Termination Activities for Ending Counseling with Children
Our culture doesn’t give us many opportunities to say goodbye in healthy ways. Termination in counseling is a great time to practice this. Termination is a time to reflect on the journey and growth the clients have made, to say goodbye in a healthy way, and to make a plan for success after counseling.
Let’s be honest, the termination phase of counseling can be difficult for not only the child, but also for the families, and the counselor! It’s important to have a plan for how to end the counseling relationship in a way that is respectful and beneficial for the child. This blog post will provide some ideas for termination activities, interventions, and strategies for counselors working with children. These activities can be used in many different settings including, schools, outpatient work, group homes, and more!
It is important to remember that the termination phase of counseling is a process, not an event. The child should be involved in this process from the beginning so that they can feel a sense of control and ownership over their own counseling experience.
I always think having some type of transitional object can be helpful, and I love to create art together by using expressive arts therapy inspired activities for termination. You’ll want to be sure to tailor the termination activities to your client’s needs, interests, and developmental level.
When terminating counseling sessions with children, it’s important to discuss a plan for the future. Some counselors prefer to call it graduation instead of termination. Whatever you call it, be sure to make time for the client to discuss their future plans and goals.
Also be sure that you share with the child and their family that it’s okay to come back to counseling and see you again in the future if they need it. This way they can understand that you will be there if they need support at some other point in their life, they are welcome to come back again. You want to normalize this concept for them.
Termination is the perfect opportunity to reflect on and review all of the progress that has been made during counseling and to set goals for continued growth after counseling has ended! Here are 23 ideas and tips for termination activities and interventions:
1. I love giving a transitional object as a small gift that the client can take with them. Since play is such an integral part of the work we do together, I came up with this water beads gift. You can create this “it’s been awesome watching you grow” water beads gift to give too with my free printable! The supplies you need are: Water Beads, Tube Containers with Caps, Cardstock, Printer, Hole Punch, Scissors, and String.
Download this free printable in my subscriber SEL resource library (sign up with a personal email as some agencies/districts block it or send to promo.) To create this kit, just pour 1 teaspoon of water beads into the tube and secure the cap. Print out the cards from my freebie library. Then cut out the cards, sign your name, hole punch, and secure the card to the tube! You can buy the caps and water beads in bulk and make this memorable gift pretty affordable. 1 teaspoon of water beads expands quite a lot!
2. Create a countdown calendar. For older kids, you can just print out a calendar. However, many younger children don’t have an accurate conception of time, so creating a countdown calendar can help make the timeline of the termination process more concrete.
You can even use whatever characters the child resonates with. For example, have a page with 4 boxes in it and print out 4 of the child's favorite characters (or use stickers.) Tell them, “You've met your goals and made great progress so we're ending counseling sessions together in June. That means we have 4 more sessions left. At the end of our next 4 sessions, you’ll glue one of these dinosaurs inside the box. When all four of the boxes have dinosaurs, we’ll have a celebration together because we'll be ending.”
3. Plan a special farewell ceremony. You want it to be meaningful to the child, so ask them how they want to celebrate! It might even involve having a special treat to eat together. Of course, be sure to check with the child’s family about food allergies first.
4. Create a "counseling toolbox" with the child. This could be a box or bag that is filled with things that remind the child of their time in counseling, such as drawings, their Skills for Big Feelings workbook, or coping skills cards from Skills for Big Feelings. You can also include some coping tools like art supplies, a stress ball, cotton balls with straws or a mini pinwheel to practice deep breathing.
5. Create a kaleidoscope together. Begin by discussing how in counseling they learned a lot about how changing their perspective by changing their thoughts can have a big impact on their feelings and choices. So creating a kaleidoscope together is a great reminder of this concept.
6. Create a memory bracelet or keychain together. You can use letter beads to spell out special words or phrases that resonate (brave, strength, hope, etc.) and use different colored beads to represent different memories or skills worked on together. You can each make the same one and then trade at the end.
7. Butterflies are great symbols of growth and change, so you can create an origami butterfly together. I suggest practicing this craft before the session first and using origami paper. The client might want to pick out a special pattern or color to represent something about their own counseling journey.
8. Use legos, blocks, or art supplies to build a bridge and reflect on this time in their lives. They can imagine themselves standing on the bridge and reflecting back on their progress and also looking forward to their future plans and goals.
9. Write goodbye letters to one another.
10. Have the client write a future letter to themselves. They can even use futureme.org to email a letter to their future selves at a certain length of time (in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, etc.) They can discuss and reflect on what they’ve learned in counseling and how they can carry that forward with them in the future.
11. Use this tracing hands termination activity from Playfully Connected Games. This termination intervention can be used in person or on telehealth.
12. Make a wordcloud with wordart.com with special words or phrases that were important to them in their counseling journey. This is another intervention that can be done on telehealth.
13. Create a card, collage, or scrapbook to review the counseling journey and feelings about moving on. I find collages are most impactful when you have words and images cut out ahead of time. If you just have magazines to flip through, it can become very distracting to many clients. You can also buy stickers or scrapbook pads with some useful words for this activity!
14. Use a pretend magic wand to practice making wishes for one another.
15. Use sand tray therapy to build a tray and process their feelings about ending counseling.
16. Give a journal to your client to encourage them to continue writing and drawing their thoughts and feelings.
17. Create a vision board with images and words to represent this new chapter in their life after counseling.
18. Frost cookies together and have each frosting color represent a different feeling. Then have the child choose a person or two they trust with their feelings, and give the cookie to them as a symbol.
19. Create a personalized certificate of counseling completion, print it, and sign it. If you go into Microsoft word, select file > new from template. Then search “Certificate” and you can customize it!
20. Watch the 2-minute YouTube video When It Is Time to Say Goodbye To Your Therapist by Miss Erin Doctor. I think this is a great video to explain the process of termination to kids.
21. Play games: Games can be used as a way to say goodbye and to help the child process their feelings about ending counseling. Some ideas include playing "memory" with memories from the counseling journey or playing "what if" with future goals after counseling.
22. Read The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and make an Invisible String craft together. In this picture book, the Mom of twins talks to them about how they are always connected to the people and animals that they love with an invisible string. This picture book is about the unbreakable relationships and bonds we have with others, no matter what.
To accompany the reading of this book you can create an invisible string craft like this one created by Lori Kays-Townsend using felt and yarn, or you can create a drawing. To create an invisible string drawing, I usually have the child write their name large in the center of a piece of paper. Next, they pick out different colored markers to write the names of the people and animals around their name that they are connected to with an invisible string to show all the bonds, supports, and connections they have with others.
23. Check out the book, edited by Liana Lowenstein! Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families Volume Four: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques! Various creative therapy techniques are shared by practitioners from all over the world in this book and I do have one chapter in this book too! There are interventions outlined for engaging, assessing, and treating children, teens, and families during in-person and online sessions and it includes a section on termination!
Remember, the termination phase of counseling doesn’t have to be daunting or scary. With proper planning and preparation, it can be a fun and positive experience for the child, family, and counselor! These 23 ideas for termination activities and strategies can help make the graduation from counseling smoother for everyone involved.