Thursday, November 17, 2011

Storytelling: Tool to Overcome Fears

From the time my oldest daughter was very small, she was very afraid of the ocean.  I remember one time it was a windy day and she had been asking to fly a kite.  I thought the beach would be a perfect place to do it.  There would be no trees to get caught up in, plenty of area to run.  I knew she didn’t like being near the surf, but the beach near our house was wide enough we could stay far away from the surf.    We got to the beach.  I brought the Elmo kite.  We couldn’t have been more than five minutes.  “Mama, I want to go home.”

We aren’t sure where this fear came from: she didn’t have any specific upsetting experiences at the beach when she was little.  She has also always hated loud noises (4th of July was always traumatic), so maybe a part of her fear of the ocean was the noise of the waves hitting the surf.  So when she was four, I decided to try making up a story about having a positive experience at the beach where she confronts her fear and overcomes it.  

It was a story about going to the beach with a family we were friends with.  They have a daughter who is 9 months younger than my daughter and they enjoy playing with each other.  They also have an older son.  So I would describe going to the beach and how at first she played in the sand with her friend far away from the ocean.  Then her friend asked her to go down to the waves, and she said no, go ahead, I don’t want to go.  Then her friend plays by herself, but it isn’t much fun so she asks her again to go to the water.  Again she refuses.  Finally, the brother comes and reassures her and tells her he will hold her hand.  She reluctantly goes with them and she puts her feet in the wet sand and the waves come in.  Then I describe her having a positive experience.  I always try to create the scene by describing tactile details: the feel of her toes digging in the wet sand and the warm sun on her back, the breeze in her hair and on her face, the sound of children laughing and the seagulls squawking.  I would end the story by having her friend’s mother pick her up and carry her deeper in the waves and then having a picnic on the beach and we tell her how much we love her.  I do not know how much this story helped her overcome her fear, but she did want me to tell it to her every night.  Now she loves the beach and could spend hours there.

My beach story was not great literature.  No one will ever illustrate it for publication.  Its value was that it was created by me specifically for my oldest daughter and no one else in the world.  And the specialness of this experience is available to every parent and caregiver.  Anyone making up a story for a child creates a unique experience for the two of them that will strengthen the bond between them.  Most importantly, this personal storytelling experience will give the child the feeling of specialness and the comfort of being cared for that every child deserves to feel.     

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