Wednesday, September 7, 2011


My professional training taught me not to get too close to clients. Not to feel too much. Not to express too much feeling.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work in a domestic violence shelter when my goal is to help kids show their true feelings. Heck, some of the kids I work with haven't even allowed themselves to experience, never mind express their feelings.

So I encourage, accept, and model feelings, especially during group time when confidentiality is expected both from me and the kids themselves.

When I ask little kids (aged 3-11) to tell a story in one of my groups, the rules are:
*The story should have a beginning, middle and end.
*It cannot be about themselves (this lessens anxiety and defensiveness)
*My story will start with the same characters in the same place as theirs, but it will be different.
*Everyone must listen quietly to both stories. (If they distract or disrupt the group, the threat of Time Out after group usually solves the problem because they don't want to lose any playtime.)

For their first story, many children re-tell a fairy tale or modern video. This can be a bit boring for the other kids, but tells me what they're struggling with. Even the first original story a child tells is usually quite tame, with one exception. If the storyteller has just left home, themes of fear, anger, or sadness may dominate the story, even if the child's facial expressions and voice remain neutral.

If the child attends enough groups, he learns about feelings from my stories. My story endings are not perfect. There's no, "And they lived happily ever after" in my stories). My endings are not disastrous, either. My characters struggle, are dramatically afraid, angry or sad, but they work toward a hopeful ending. Not an apocalyptic ending.

When the storyteller is done, I ask if he has a lesson for his story. The first story lesson might be, a shrug, or "It's a movie," or "She learned how to jump." After telling or hearing several "dual" stories, however, many kids progress to providing lessons that are every bit as good as mine.

This therapeutic technique is not rocket science. It's about challenging the beliefs a child has "learned" in the midst of craziness or confusion or any of the hard balls life tosses at him. It's about providing a more realistic view of the realities of life and love.

Mutual Storytelling is especially important for children who have experienced unusual stress or trauma because the difference between the two stories result in feelings. These feelings may upset a child for a week or two. They may also eventually help him choose a different path in life.

Maybe your child would enjoy telling you a story once a week or so.
It takes patience and courage to listen, to honestly to tell your story. But it's worth every minute of your precious time.

No comments: