Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Billy Goats Gruff in My Living Room

Stories can be powerful tools for teaching, healing and transformation. When there is a behavior in your young child that you would like to see changed, an effective tool can be a story that portrays the challenge and an outcome you’d like to see. Later in this post I’ll give some tips about creating a story for your child.

Stories are a wonderful teaching tool and a powerful way to convey the values of the teller to the receiver of the story. With young children, it is an effective way to help change behaviors and create new habits without a lot of intellectualizing and explaining. 

One of the amazing things about storytelling is that is received by the heart of the listener, bypassing the intellect. After a story, we say; “I loved that story,” or “I didn’t like that one.” We don’t respond to a story with, “I disagree with that,” or “That’s not correct.” We respond with our feelings, and it seeps into our thoughts later.

Young children so easily learn stories by heart, even without comprehending the meaning. For the very young, stories are an opportunity for language to wash over them. They begin to taste the flavor of their mother tongue, and they learn language sounds, vocabulary, grammar and syntax. And, they begin to develop an essential capacity for later reading - the capacity to make inner pictures of what the words are describing.

There are some important guidelines for telling or reading stories to young children. The first is that the story has a ‘happy ending.’ For the children to develop and unfold their skills and capacities, they have to feel that their world is a safe and good place to be. Stories can help create an environment where the children can thrive, and can provide nourishment for their young souls.

The other guideline is that the story speaks powerfully for itself. Any interpretation spoken to the children dilutes the message that the images of the story already so clearly brought. Adult minds of course engage in analyzing and looking for meaning in stories and everything else but practice holding back. Interpretation is an intellectual activity, and stories speak to the heart. Don’t speak your interpretation of the story or state the moral to the young child.

Now, about making that story for your child. 

In the story you make ‘the names are changed to protect the innocent,’ but the basic situation remains. If you want the characters to have names, choose names other than those of your child and his or her friends. In your imagination transform your child’s situation into one involving animals instead. What animal would your child be. Switch the gender of the central character so the child is less likely to think it is about him or her. You can include real interactions your child has had, and even include some actual dialog. The creative part is making an ending where the situation is resolved and everything comes out fine - a happy ending. An ending where needs are met and there is a feeling of satisfaction.

Once you have your story together, run through it in your imagination and see how it feels. Fix up some parts if they need it, but don’t worry about perfection (whatever that is). The act of trying to come up with a healing story for your child is such a powerful activity. This really is a case of the trying is what makes a difference.

When you tell your story, put your undivided attention into the story. Make the images of the story come alive in you - try to ‘see’ the story as you are telling it. Is there a way you can get out of the way so the story can speak through you?

You have to remember your story so you can tell it again the next day. And the next. And for a week and more. Repetition helps the story penetrate more deeply into the child’s psyche, and repetition is what strengthens neural pathways. Young children naturally want a story repeated over and over. I am sure you have had the experience of your child asking for the same story every day for weeks on end. Repeat the story as long as possible.

Steve’s How-to List:
  1. Change the situation to one involving animals
  2. Change the gender of the central figures
  3. Change the names 
  4. Make a happy ending where the good prevails. 
  5. No moralizing or interpretation
  6. Repeat the story every day
What I would really appreciate is after you create one of these special stories and try it out, let me know what happened. What was the situation, the story and the result. 

P.S. Please share this ‘how-to make a healing story guide’ with your friends!

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