An ancient human tradition, oral storytelling has now become a lost art. We once gathered around the fire to listen to the stories of our Grandfather’s Grandfathers, to the quests of great conquerers and the legends of brave Princes and High Priestesses. Now it seems we are increasingly relying upon visual media to sugar-coat, water-down and simplify these once wise stories now presented to our children on a screen that lulls them into a one-dimensional world of little sensory input and moral diversity and nil imagination.
Oral storytelling empowers children (and adults!) to listen deeply and to imagine characters places and things in their own mind’s eye without any outside help or prompting. Oral storytelling lays the foundation for literacy, exposing children to the rhythm of language and rich vocabulary while conveying societal virtues, values and wisdom.
Stories can also be deeply healing. In her book, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, Susan Perrow writes,
“Therapeutic storytelling is a gentle, easy yet often very effective means of addressing difficult topics with children. The story form offers a healing medium that allows children to embark on an imaginative journey, rather than being lectured or directly addressed about their behaviour. By identifying with the main character or characters, the child is empowered as obstacles are overcome and a resolution achieved.”
Each of the seasonally-inspired stories in the Whole Family Rhythms Guides contain characters who face and overcome specific internal and external conflicts. But what if our child is presently facing a specific challenge of his/her own?
We as parents can write and tell a personalized therapeutic story which acts as a metaphor for the current challenges our child faces.
Below is a loose guide to help you write your child a “healing story”. I encourage you to ‘free write’ (stream of consciousness-writing) your ideas and answers to each of the following questions and then sleep on them. The following day you can reflect back on your answers, create a skeletal plot and start writing.
Identify the Challenge that needs to be overcome.
Why are you writing this story?
- Has there been a death in the family, an act of violence, increased anger or fighting in the family, is the child dealing with a particular behavioural challenge (eg. biting, hitting, pinching)?
- is the child resisting a specific transition (eg. bedtime, going to school, mealtime & foods)?
Identify the Need.
How is the child feeling and what does the child need?
- Identify what he/she is feeling (scared, alone, angry, frustrated, jealous etc.) and
- what is needed to counteract this (bravery, sense of support, strength, understanding, adventurousness, clarity, frequent and little reminders, repetition, acceptance etc.)
Identify the Course of Action and Resolution.
Is there some way that the situation can empower the child to see the challenge in a new light?
- Challenges require change of some sort. How can the story inspire unconscious change in the child’s behaviour? As an example, a resistance to new foods can be reflected in a story as missing out on adventure. The story of a prince who doesn’t want to leave the confines of the castle. Everyone around him leaves and returns with exciting stories and having made discoveries without him until he finally decides to “just try a taste” of the outside world whereupon he learns he loves it!
Identify the Characters.
Who will represent the current feelings/challenges the child has and resolve them?
- A hero or heroine. This may be a plant or animal, a fairy or gnome or prince or princess. Choose something the child loves or admires or a character with similar challenging behaviours (for example a snappy crab).
- A “protector”, “sage”, “guru” or “confidante. This character is not essential but helpful. It is someone who supports the hero on his/her journey. For example, a best friend, a wise old owl, an angel or fairy godmother.
- A villain or wrong-doer or a physical or mental challenge. Someone or something who presents challenges the hero/ine must overcome.
Outline the plot.
What are the possible storylines and lessons learned?
- The plot should have an introduction to set the scene, a challenge to overcome and a well resolved solution to the hero/ine’s problem.
- When writing make sure that the challenge is made very clear and that the character explores all possible resolutions to the problem while considering his/her moral conduct.
- Make sure the story mirrors the actions the child needs to reflect in his/her own life.
- Make sure the character’s range of feelings are verbally made clear both before and after the story’s resolution. For example, The Prince felt anxious, scared and slightly angry before he embarked on his Quest and when he returned he felt relieved, self-assured and content.
- End with a celebration of the character’s triumph and achievements and a acknowledgement of his/her hard work to get there.
Tell the Story.
After you have written your story read it over each night before bed fro a few days so that you can make changes if you wish and also to imprint it indoor memory. When you tell the story be sure to find a quiet time with your child when you will be undisturbed. I find lying in bed with them right before lights go out is the best.
What is most magic about writing a story for our own child is that before we have even told our child their story, so much healing has already occurred. In clarifying the problem for ourselves (the parent) we approach it with a newer and more empathetic perspective both consciously and unconsciously and which puts is on a new path towards change.
The first story I ever wrote for my eldest didn’t even reach his ears! The moment I put everything to paper the sense of clarity I achieved about the situation at hand enabled me to shift my thoughts and actions enough to clear the “challenge” completely. Other stories I tell to my young ones are personalized favourites. “Jack the Monkey” is a silly little story I made up on the spot for my daughter Juniper before bed one night. I am still not entirely sure why she adores it so much (although I’ve thought long and hard about it) but for months she has consistently begged for that story before bed. Without much thought I created a story that has deep meaning for her.
I encourage you to take the time to try this exercise if you feel your child is struggling with a specific challenge. I highly recommend both of Susan Perrow’s books on the subject for more in-depth information and inspiration including age-appropriate tips and many story samples that you can use yourself for specific behavioural challenges.
Please do come back here and share your experiences with this in the comments section if you(‘ve) try it! The Whole Family Rhythms tribe is a community of like-minded women who love to learn from head other and we truly value your thoughts, ideas and insight!
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