Once upon a time…

Children are happy to listen to stories however they are told. Whether from a book, or just spoken off-the-cuff inventions, they are fascinated with words, the sounds of voices and the realm of the imagination.

Verbal stories can be told anywhere, anytime and can trigger a sense of security and safety in unusual or difficult situations. Singing familiar songs – another form of story – will do a similar thing.

Very simply, by relating stories from your own childhood – about you, what you did, and where you lived can become part of the imaginary world they will use to make sense of their own lives. By reaching back into your own past, you can give your children a strong sense of their present and material to build their own stories for the future.

Imagining characters and inventing adventures is much simpler than you might think. It can also be very therapeutic.

Who is the story about:
The first thing is to imagine what form the characters will take. Using familiar names can create an instant rapport – the name of a pet, or their own  names or middle names work well. You can then decide what or who they will be. If you have a timid child, you can imagine them as a lion, or a wolf. Make believe creatures will send children into the realm of the imagination very quickly as they picture the character in their minds.

Don’t over-complicate:
Don’t overpopulate your stories with too many characters – one or two are enough. You can include new characters as you need them when you create adventures and happenings. It means you can keep track of who you’ve invented and their basic characteristics. Remember, children’s minds are not cluttered up with all the information usually found inside an adults head.  They tend to remember small details with alarming accuracy.

Keep themes simple:
Keep the stories simple. They don’t need to have great meaning, or a life message or a moral. Depending on the age of your children, you can craft your tales to suit their level of understanding. As your characters develop you can expand the reach of the stories but children are not looking for deep insights – they just want to hear you tell a story. By keeping them simple, you are also keeping them repeatable – children find comfort in repetition.

Let the stories grow:
Over time you will be able to use your characters to help your children understand some of the challenges that occur in their lives. For example, when a loved pet dies, their essential character can live on through the stories you tell so the finality of death is softened (not masked) and their minds can process the event imaginatively as well as in reality. In this way you can let the stories grow with your children, and they can last for many many years.

Susan Perrow is a theraputic storyteller who believes that metaphoric stories can heal challenging or unbalanced behaviour in children. Her books “Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour”  and Therapeutic Storytelling are both wonderful resources for anyone wishing to develop their story telling and understand how stories can affect behaviour in children as well as help them process some of life’s more tangled situations.

Start simply and build slowly, some stories are like a good sourdough starter, they can last generations and be just as nourishing and comforting as fresh baked bread.

The end.

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