Last night at the shelter, we had several kids aged 1-3 during group time so I ran only two groups. They were doozies, though. Both groups had kids the right age to benefit from Mutual Storytelling. I ask the child storyteller to make up a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but tell them the story cannot be about themselves. When the child is done with his story, I tell mine. I start with the same characters and the same situation but my story is very different.
One of the stories involved a good family in a normal situation. They were co-operating and enjoying themselves until the child fell down, hit her head, and died. Just like that. The mother cried and cried for the loss of her child, but she was dead. Period. In my story that followed, no one died, but someone threatened the family and the police were called. They took the "bad guy" off to jail and the family felt a little better.
The other story involved a family going on a picnic. Nothing bad happened. Everything was perfect. My story, however, had the threat of robbery by intrusive teens during the picnic and the mother sneaking a call to 911. The police caught the bad guys and the family chose a safer location the next time they picnicked.
Both kids' stories are extreme in that there is sudden death in one, and no problems whatsoever in the other. While both situations can occur in real life, these are not typical stories.
Based on my training and experience, I think one child fears getting hurt or killed because of anger about people in her life. I think the other child is denying there are any problems in her family or that this is her "ideal" family.
Given that both kids have been exposed to trauma in their own homes, I'm not surprised at these themes. But given that most kids don't express family life in this way,I made sure my stories showed people getting help and people dealing with problems they encountered.
Both kids are young. I hope they get to tell me more stories. Usually, if my messages are sinking in, the children's stories become progressively more realistic.
And realism is way better than denial, hidden anger, or fear.