The Use of Story: A Softer Approach to Healing

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” – Walt Disney

Reading with your child can be healing and helpful. Beside the sheer entertainment value, stories educate, influence and inspire. A useful story imparts wisdom, clarifies a topic, and reinforces creativity.

Books provide a simple yet meaningful way to approach topics that may be awkward at first. Having the right resource is invaluable and allows for an easy opening to discuss the characters and the issues they face.

Most stories involve characters who struggle in some way to solve their particular dilemma. They bring awareness to this truth: facing a problem is the first step toward solving it.  Because these characters rarely succeed in devising a solution on their first attempt, a well-crafted story presents numerous ways to tackle a problem. Children understand and enjoy the multiple approaches which are required before a resolution appears. Developed characters take us on an exciting and captivating ride.

From stories like these, children learn the value of persevering in the face of difficulties. Additionally, they learn to appreciate the importance of being open minded as they hear how each character explores and attempts their own unique solution.

Children are naturally inclined to become involved with the characters in stories. They not only identify with the feelings of the characters, but they are able to identify those feelings within themselves. This identification reduces their feelings of isolation and the often long-held impression that they are the only ones struggling with a difficult problem.

This validates two key points. The first is others have problems similar to their own. The second being sometimes solutions to these problems takes time and concerted effort.

I like stories which help children explore key life lessons. In particular, I like to help adults approach a situation of importance to the family, a topic relevant to the community, or an issue of societal import.

Let’s face it. Some conversations are just plain awkward. Let me commend you for your efforts to address uncomfortable topics with your child. First and foremost, I suggest you spend the necessary time to locate literature to deal with your particular circumstance.  Whether it be recovery, illness, death, poverty, disaster, divorce, and/or disability, take time to search for the right book and proper story which suits your child’s temperament, age, gender, and level of maturity. Make sure you read the material first so you are comfortable with the way the information is presented. You can evaluate if your child will respond to the characters or stories.

I’d like to offer a few methods to encourage meaningful conversation during and after a story of significance. I offer these as ways to expand on an important topic. Feel free to adjust to your child’s attention span or level of interest. The point is to maintain fun and not get bogged down in more than your child can comfortably handle.

At first, you can discuss the character’s problem with questions like the following.

“What was the main problem … faced?

“Did you think they would solve the problem?”

“Did you worry they would not solve their problem?

To reinforce the character’s traits, you might ask,

“What do you think … would say if…?”

“What do you think … would do if…?”

Additionally you can expand the child’s self awareness by asking,

“How do you think …. felt when…?”

“How are you like …?”

“How are you different from …?”

You can help your child gain insight into their own life by asking these open ended questions.

“If you could tell him or her one thing about you what would it be?” or

“If you could help… what would you tell him or her?”

These types of questions are an effective way to integrate the message of the story.

Beyond verbal questioning, I like to incorporate an art activity. Most children like to draw the characters they like. If, for some reason, this proves challenging, I often ask them to draw things the character likes to do or places they might like to visit. More often than not, children will draw things they personally like to do or places they like to go. Great fodder for more dialogue.

Writing activities are an effective way to explore the subject of a book. Some children like to write about their favorite character. I often ask them to explain what they like about the character and/or what makes them special. I remind them there is no right or wrong answer and emphasize all opinions are valid. This need not be a difficult endeavor. A short paragraph or even a few sentences are sufficient.

Some children can place themselves into the character’s world and consider how they might respond. If the story is well written, generally children do not struggle to do this. I like to create a new situation the character might face. Children are free to make their response on behalf of the character. This allows for some safe distance from their own personal life, but clearly engages them in a constructive synthesis of the material.

If sharing with others is an option, more insights are likely to occur. The main one being, everyone sees things a little differently; or even a lot differently. No one is right or wrong in their impressions.

Of course, combining writing and visual arts yields great results. I love the paper with lines on the bottom and space at the top for incorporating both activities on the same page. A lead-in question can be addressed with both options simultaneously.

Stories can and do offer healing and help to children and the people who love them. A little extra time to integrate the story concepts can make a big difference.

I like to remember this. The ancient Greeks believed in the importance of reading both psychologically and spiritually. No wondered they placed signs above their library doors to demonstrate their belief. The sign proclaimed the library to be a “Healing Place for the Soul”.