For the longest time, monsters lived in my daughter’s closet. I had no idea how they got there. More importantly, I had no idea how to get rid of them. What I did know was that every night, my four-year-old daughter climbed into my bed with her favorite baby doll and her host of fears. She snuggled close to feel safe. Often she sighed that the monsters could sleep where they did, and she could sleep in her parents’ bedroom. I wondered if storytelling might banish her fears.
At first, my daughter was too afraid to talk about her encounter. She just wanted who or whatever had taken up residence in her closet to move on. So did I. Besides experiencing the all too familiar effects of sleep deprivation, I was haunted by the fear on my daughter’s face. Never had I ever seen her so afraid. I wanted to protect her. I wanted to rid her closet and her psyche of all monsters now and forever. I had great empathy for her fears since giant spiders used to live in the closet of my bedroom as a child.
First, we set to work. Together, we searched and cleaned her closet. She set monster traps, and I put a lock on her closet door. We searched her room and even wrote the monster a nice note politely asking it to vacate the premises. I reasoned, rationalized, and appealed to her typically sensible nature. Nothing worked.
Motivated by Monsters
Then I ran across a book A World Full of Monsters by John Troy McQueen at our local library. This bright and humorous book describes a time when monsters and humans were more alike than different. It tells of monsters and people peacefully sharing the world and alludes to the fact that there aren’t that many monsters anymore, but that they do exist. In the end, the little boy who is listening to the story concludes that when he hears noises at night, it is nothing to be afraid of. It is just the monsters doing their chores.
This book was perfect. After hearing the story, my daughter’s fears were validated and eventually put to rest. She had seen another child live with her fear and triumph. It was at this point that storytelling became an important tool in my childrearing and family work arsenal.
Stories offer children a safe place to explore and identify their emotions. When children hear or read stories they become part of another world. It is a world similar to the one in which they live. There are parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. There are also characters who are dealing with the same problems. Once exposed to how a storybook character masters a difficult situation, children are often inspired to tackle their own fears. Here are a few simple tips for you to follow when using storytelling to help your children overcome her fears.
What’s the problem? Before choosing a story to read or share, parents first need to pinpoint the problem or fear. This can be difficult if your child is hesitant to share. Think back to the recent past. Has anything changed? Did you move? Did your child change schools or classrooms? Did you rearrange her room? Has she suddenly developed a fear of the dark? Any change in routine or new challenge may cause problems for your child.
Look for the book. Once parents identify the problem, they need to find a good book with a positive message to addresses it. Look for stories that are age appropriate and will appeal to your child. Your local librarian can help with this. Another resource is Books to Grow On– A Guide to Using the Best Children’s Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges.
This reference book, written by Cheryl Coon, offers parents reading suggestions on over one hundred topics. Choose a good time and place. Choosing when and where you share stories with your child can be as important as the story itself. Children will not benefit fully from the message if they are not focused. Pick a comfortable place with no noise or distractions. Choose a time when your child is more centered and less restless. Hold her close or on your lap so that there will be a connection. Then storytelling becomes an emotional bonding too.
Lighten the Fear Load
Let your enthusiasm show. If you are enthusiastic and excited about the story, your child will pick up on your excitement. He will want to listen more carefully and become more involved with the story. The more involved he is in the story, the more likely the message will hit home. You can engage your child in a number of ways. Use different voices for different characters. Use movement or act out some of the action. Try sound effects and have some vocal fun. The more entertaining the storyteller, the more absorbed the listener becomes.
Laugh it up. Like enthusiasm, humor can increase your child’s interest in the story. Humor is also good for offsetting serious issues. Sometimes when children identify with a character or relate to a situation, it makes them sad. Their current problem moves to the forefront, drowning out the story and its positive message. This is your cue to ham it up. Exaggerate. Make funny faces. Jump around. Put some humor into your story time.
Talk, talk, talk. If the message in the story hits home, your child may become very talkative. Encourage your child to talk at any time during or after the story. Stories help ease their burden and allow children who were previously stoic to open up. If this happens with your child, that is fantastic. The story did its job. If your child doesn’t feel like talking, then a few gentle questions from you might help.
Storytelling can be used to shed light on any of a number of preschool fears. From moving to making friends to death, stories let children know they are not alone in their problems. This offers them comfort and gives them the confidence they need to face fears, overcome obstacles, and live happily ever after.