The ending of each group can provide a challenge and also an opportunity for change to emerge between you and your child. Endings can provoke a lot of emotion for you both. It might be feelings of being unwanted, the sadness of saying goodbye and the loss of the comfort and safety the group offers. Your child may express this with tears, tantrums and a refusal to leave. This can feel quite embarrassing and overwhelming.

To illustrate how this can be thought about, I will describe an imaginary example of what can happen: As the group came to an end, signified by the staff blowing bubbles, Lisa began to cry. Her mother, Hetti, says sternly ‘it’s time to go, come on’ and moves towards her daughter. Lisa starts to run away and Hetti reaches out and grabs Lisa’s arm. Lisa kicks and squirms against her mother’s grasp, Hetti’s face now stony. They walk out of the centre in this way, each in their own hurt and possibly some despair. What had just taken place? We thought earlier a bit about some of the emotion that might be stirred up in both you and your little one by endings. Endings of seemingly quite ordinary kinds can be powerful reminders of other types of change, possibly ones that have been traumatic. They might prompt emotional memories of being left alone in some way, be that literally, or emotionally, an awareness that no one was able to help you with how you felt. We might wonder that Hetti also felt accused or even rejected by her daughter’s upset and actions.  For Lisa, there was saying goodbye to the people and toys that flooded into her, perhaps some fear of her mother’s response and possibly of what it meant for them both to be alone with one another again.

Next week, knowing that saying goodbye seems to be hard for them both, a member of staff is on hand. As Lisa becomes upset, they talk to her about how she might feel and that maybe it is difficult for them both in some way, that Lisa’s tears are in some way also felt by Hetti. They reassure them that they will be here next week and hope to see them then.  This time, Lisa stays near her mother, both looking sad and not knowing quite what to do. Lisa looks tentatively up at her mother, Hetti not seeming to notice. The member of staff wonders to Hetti if Lisa may like to be picked up, Hetti remaining still. The member of staff acknowledges that it can feel hard to know quite what to do at times and asks if it is okay to pick Lisa up. Hetti agrees and they walk quietly, unspeaking to the gate. The staff member says goodbye, putting Lisa down. Lisa reaches up for her mother’s hand and they walk out together holding hands. On this occasion, Lisa and Hetti’s struggles are recognised and verbalised, providing a little bit of relief from the intensity of the emotions they may be feeling. The member of staff perhaps recognises Lisa wish to be collected up and comforted, communicating that it is okay to be upset and to need help. Hetti finds this challenging and she is maybe used to trying to get on with things, this is something perhaps she herself had little help with and was possibly even unsafe to show, so pain is something that is pushed away.  The staff member offers this help and, in some way, holds them both.

The following week, Lisa again runs away from her mother when it is time to go. The staff member says ‘it is super hard to say goodbye’ and then more playfully, ‘where are you running to?’ and they chase after her, Lisa now smiling. Lisa hides and the staff member says in an exaggerated tone ‘where has Lisa gone, have you seen her Hetti?’ Hetti smiles slightly. The staff member makes a show of searching for Lisa and invites mother to join her. Hetti does so, albeit with slow footsteps. The staff member exclaims excitedly, ‘there you are,’ Lisa now smiling broadly and she comes out and goes over to her mother, holding her hand. This is the beginning of a new way of being together for them. In the following weeks, Hetti is able to be the one that plays chase and hide and seek with her daughter and they leave now smiling together. What has changed? A new pattern has emerged, that when Lisa becomes upset, Hetti is able to wonder what is happening. Through noticing how she responded to the staff member, having the chance to observe her daughter, it might be Hetti has realised that what Lisa feels is not a criticism of her and that she has the ability to help her daughter at these times. Lisa feels her mother’s greater capacity and is welcoming of it. Games such as hide and seek are a great way for children to play with the feelings of being wanted and to feel reassured they are held in mind, as the seeker of course remembers them when they are out of sight.  For Lisa, it may be a sense of being more welcomed and accepted. It is also quite possible that this is also true of Hetti’s experience in her relationship with her daughter.

If you are fortunate to have such a group available to you in your area, if you feel this would be something that could benefit you and your little one, I would encourage you to reach out to them. If not, then perhaps start to notice how you feel and what your child does when it is time to leave somewhere, it does not have to be a group, it could be simply from home. Sometimes children find going from one thing to another unsettling, for example playing to eating, reminding them often of the relatively little control that they have. This is why routines can be so helpful, bringing predictability to their day. When you add in your explanation to them about what and why things are happening, this gives them a great base from which to believe that they are noticed.

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