So we've built beautiful relationships between children and mentors, and now the program just ends? How do we say goodbye without creating yet another loss in a child's life?
We know the Stable Moments model values mentorship because of how impactful a healthy relationship with a caring adult can be for children who have suffered developmental trauma. This is also why the program runs for 10 months, so participants have the time to build enough trust with their mentor to actually work on developing life skills. Ideally, the program would run for as long as it was beneficial to the child, and this is how I initially started the program, but asking mentors to commit indefinitely didn't prove practical. So each session year there is an end. Children and mentors, of course, can choose to come back the next session year, but there is an inevitable goodbye which must be handled mindfully with children who are used to loss and abandonment.
Firstly, you want to make sure the child is aware that sessions are coming to a close. You may want to remind them of this for the six weeks leading up to the last session. An abrupt goodbye or loss of a relationship can cause more trauma than never having made the relationship.
It may be appropriate to plan out "goodbye activities" for the last month or last four sessions. This way the child has time to process that they will not be meeting with their mentor anymore. The activities should be relationship based and allow the child to take a piece of the mentor or program with them. Here are few last session ideas:
Tie - dye a shirt
Who doesn't want to wear a tie-dye shirt in the summer? Tie-dying allows participants to make something creative that they can wear. This builds a sense of identity as they are free to create whatever they wish. Wearing something they have created develops a sense of ownership of their identity. This is their unique creation and they are proud to wear it!
This is great for transitions out of the program as both mentor and child can make a shirt, building their relationship while engaging in this activity.
The mentor can use the differences between their shirts to highlight the differences in each other while talking about how close they have become regardless of those differences.
It is smart to do this activity at least a couple weeks before the end of sessions, to let the shirts dry. When I did it, I would wash them and then apply our logo with a heat press. We were donated one similar to this. This allows the shirt to represent the program in which they are leaving even more. The kids and mentors loved these!
Make a Photo Album
Hopefully you have snapped several pictures of each child with their horse and mentor. If you haven't start now (with permission of course). Keep the photos in a easy access folder on google drive or where you keep their plan of care and other files. At the end of the year print the photos. If you don't have enough to fill a photo album you can take pictures of all the animals, and different staff to remind them of the barn. When it comes time to do the activity give their mentor an envelope with the photos and a blank photo album. I used these. Allow the child to decorate and fill the photo album as they wish. Encourage the mentor to write notes for the child to reflect on when they are missing the program.
Make a Bracelet or Necklace
Along the same lines as the tie-dye shirt, this is something they can create and wear! Some participants choose to make a bracelet for their mentor and vice versa. This way they are making something for each other to signify their relationship, even after they go leave the program. Some mentors choose to make a bracelet that says their mentee's name. This develops self-worth and value in the child as this is a tangible declaration of what the child means to the mentor. You can find bead kits with letters here.
Decorate a Picture Frame
Much like the photo album this is better if you only have one picture. Ideally the picture would include the mentor, child and horse! Get a picture frame the child can decorate themselves. You can find blank picture frames here. Making this an activity for both the mentor and child to engage in is key to make it relational. Make sure both the mentor and child make one to highlight that they mentor will want to remember their time together as well!
Paint a Horse Shoe
If you have a few extra horse shoes laying around, use them! What a great way for a child to remember the program and their favorite horse by decorating a horse shoe. This is a neat artifact they can display in their room or bring to show and tell. Again, allowing them to bring the program elsewhere is key here.
These are just a few ideas. But, in summary, make it relational. You don't just want to give the child something to remember the program by. Make sure to engage them in the making of the item. Whenever possible, have the mentor make the same thing. It is important that these children understand just how much they matter to their mentor and not just how much their mentor means to them.