tell a story

parent and child talking, telling a story to work through an issueFor some reason at this time of year things tend to come unglued. If you have a child in kindergarten, you may well know what we’re talking about. Fall starts tentatively, builds nicely, the holidays hit, and then what the heck?! Troubles with a friend. Some part of school is too hard. Or not fun. Something is just off. At any rate, if you find yourself in this “what the heck?” camp, you are in good company. And if your children are particularly tender or volatile because of something happening with friends, in school, or developmentally, here’s a strategy to help loosen the knots, connect with your child, and help them both talk about and navigate the tricky pitfalls of childhood, in this season or any other.

Tell a story.
Connect an experience your child has with a real or fictitious story. Populate the narrative with characters she can relate to. Create any outcome you like. You can tell a story from “the other child’s perspective,” and the hurt feelings in your story can be those of a giraffe or monkey—amazingly—on the very same playground that you just returned home from. A little spider can be a character that worked so diligently and created something beautiful without anyone looking only to have the web torn apart by the wind. The once-scary monster can be called home and tucked into bed lovingly by his own Mama. Stories allow your child distance and perspective. They can provide vocabulary and a safe context in which to discuss something troubling or complex, exciting or amazing. If it is a lesson you want your child to learn, you can help them see the effect of their actions without directly blaming or shaming them. Sharing real stories from your own childhood can also show your understanding of their experience and allows your child to connect to you in a very meaningful way.

This tactic has served me so many times! One that will always stick with me is the night we realized, at bedtime, that my daughter’s favorite stuffie, Bessie the Horse, was left at preschool. Overnight. In a dark building. With no one there. A federal case, widespread panic, wailing grief. A quickly spun story, populated with characters from the fantasy world of her preschool, came to the rescue!

             Mother Squirrel, who lived in the schoolyard tree, had snuck inside with her babies to see if Room Mouse had found any good snacking fodder left by the children or a lazy broom. They came across Bessie in Olivia’s cubby, and immediately called all of the critters to a party in her honor … (with great commotion and mess, the toys came to life and prepared a feast and made mischief all through the classrooms—particularly with glitter and googly eyes—and had the time of their lives). Olivia fell asleep to this story, and the next morning couldn’t wait to get to school to see if the teachers had done a good job cleaning up the mess. —t

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