Story telling for Children

14 Jul

From Your Anxious Child: Emails to Parents by Edward H. Plimpton

Story-Telling for Anxious Children

Nighttime is a favorite time for worries to emerge. In another email, I talked about building a worry motel as a way of containing and labeling worries. But there is also another time-honored way of helping children with worries, which is making up bedtime stories. I have also discussed the value of books in promoting a sense of security and safety, as well as reading books that specifically address anxiety. However, there is nothing like a bedtime story that you have created. It can be tailor-made for your child in a way that no book can ever possibly approximate. And the act of storytelling creates a special moment of intimacy between you and your child in which you let her know that she not alone in feeling scared.

Understandably, when I the mention the idea of bedtime story-telling, parents remind me of how tired they are night and that they don’t have the imagination for it. But it is important to remember that your audience will be appreciative of any efforts you make and the act of engaging in an imaginative activity can actually be relaxing and decrease your stress level. There is a wonderful book for parents by Chase Collins, Tell Me a Story: Creating Bedtime Tales Your Children Will Dream On, which provides many suggestions about how to find the creative story-teller within you. It can be as a simple as picking an event that occurred during the day and providing “feelings” for both the animate and inanimate objects involved. So if a child is afraid of going into the bathroom by herself, there might be a talking toilet or bath towel as part of the story. Bedtimes stories can also be structured around the classic fairy tale plot line that involves a likeable hero, who goes off on a journey, encounters a problem and comes up with a solution and there is a happy ending (Collins, 1992, p73). But there are many variations on how to create a story, including making it much more a joint effort. Here is one example.

A mother had been desperate to help her 8-year-old daughter who had a combination of ADHD and OCD, but nothing was really working.

The answer presented itself at bedtime.  Leah’s vivid imagination has been focused on fairies that could show up at all times of day, but especially at bedtime.  I realized that it might help if I tapped into this playful and imaginative side of her.  One night, while Leah and I were playing together, I asked if she would like the fairies to speak to her through me. She was thrilled with the idea. I would “become” one of the many fairies that I had named, on a nightly basis, and we would talk. At first, it was getting to know the fairies, so we “talked” about such things as what games they like to play and their favorite snacks. But gradually with the fairies doing the talking, her worries and struggles emerged. As with many children with ADHD, Leah sometimes has difficulty falling asleep at night and she had resisted doing any relaxation breathing. That is, until “Goldenmist” arrived on the scene, who has become Leah’s “relaxation” fairy. When Leah has trouble falling asleep, “Goldenmist” will breathe along with her, and she will sometimes ask her to close her eyes, and imagine herself lying in a field full of beautiful flowers. With the help of Goldenmist, Leah is now doing her relaxation breathing …With the help of these “fairies” and our joint story-telling, Leah has become less anxious. It has been interesting to watch how the characters have evolved, in particular how OCD has been morphed productively into “Fluffy.” Leah will readily take advice from “Fluffy” that she would never accept from me. I have made sure that many of the fairies meet a particular need for Leah. Over time, I have come to realize that it is not just the content of the play that Leah has responded to, but it is the story-telling itself.”

 The process of story-telling can communicate to your anxious child that you empathize with him and he is not alone in his struggles. Once you focus on the creative activity, it can actually be a lot of fun. So everyone benefits and that is simply good medicine.

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