Power of storytelling: Coping and communicating through stories
We all love a good story. From famous wizards and hobbit adventures – to that crime series we couldn’t stop watching! Escapism is a favourite of children and adults alike and there’s a good reason for it.
Storytelling isn’t just for developing literacy skills. It’s a form of cognitive play which hones our minds creatively, critically and communicatively.
Playfulness leads to reduced behavioural thresholds. Children feel safe to try out (and try on) lots of different behaviours and emotions during play.
Engaging with stories sets the stage for a lifetime of better social and emotional understanding. Stories empathetically put us in somebody else’s shoes and social situations.
They also help us understand our own lives through the perspective of other people and events. This is the power of metaphor.
Engage with powerful storytelling
Stories have a strong effect on memory retrieval – we remember our favourite fictional friends throughout life! Playful story-telling provides an environment where issues can be safely revisited through dramatic distancing.
For example, if a child has lost their parent, they probably shouldn’t hear a story about a family dog passing away. Children dealing with loss could instead imagine a sandcastle which is washed away to live under the sea.
In the same way, perhaps a child with low self-esteem learns about clumsy Colin the Caterpillar who turns into a magnificent butterfly. Children who struggle with feeling ‘different’ could hear about a horse who wants to fly like a bird.
When creating or selecting stories to help children understand and communicate a difficult event or situation, remember that the more distant the metaphor, the more effective it is.
If you’re possibly not a natural storyteller (like many of us!) – try Rory’s Story Cubes, recommended by the Good Toy Guide, these cubes give essential – and wacky – narrative ideas through pictures. You can create a story individually or together using as many sides of the picture dice as you like. Watch imaginations go wild as you have fun building a tall tale.
Puppets big or small are a great way for children and adults to symbolically embody different characters. Puppets can be used to tell a story, gain attention and for children to use in free unstructured play. Making silly voices and big gestures enhances the experience – you might be surprised by what happens! Curlimals or Nursery Rhyme Hand and Finger Puppet Set and Carry Case Finger Puppet Theatre can be an excellent choice to help children identify with the puppet and project their emotions. See our guide to using Curlimals to help your child develop empathy through imaginative play.
Playful storytelling, inclusively
Children with learning difficulties such as speech and language and special educational needs or early years may struggle to understand stories and metaphors.
Sensory stories (or story bags) are a fantastic playful way to fire engagement through all of the senses. Grab your top-performing books and find similar figures, props, textures, sounds – even smells – you have lying around. If a King wears a fur robe, find something soft for the kids to stroke. If the book is set in the countryside, pick grass and leaves for the kids to see, touch and feel.
Stories can also help plan. Some children with autism spectrum conditions struggle with metaphors. Social stories using visual videos and pictures are literal ways of preparing children for an event outside of their regular routine such as Christmas or going to the beach. Repeating the social story at least 3 times before the event can help make the transition on the day smoother.