Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

December 9, 2012

Stories to Calm the Storm

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 3:53 pm
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Sandy blew through the Northeast over a month ago.  While thankfully, for many, the lights are back on, the power is humming, and there are warm beds welcoming them each evening, there are still many families for whom the storm is disrupting their lives.  Even for those of us fortunate enough to have lost little, and suffered inconvenience at best, there is a nagging sense of lost time, of not being totally back to normal, of little and not so little reminders of the breadth and impact of Super Storm Sandy.  I still look for lines when I drive past gas stations, I find my eyes drawn to downed trees, and I more obsessively keep my electronics charged.  As an adult, and a psychologist who works in the area of trauma, I know these responses are normal left-overs from trauma, part and parcel of the recovery process.

How are parents, educators and children dealing with the continued impact and echoes of a traumatic storm?  Whether children were or still are displaced, whether they lost possessions, or simply relocated temporarily, whether their schools relocated or closed, the storm has touched them.  What are developmentally appropriate ways that parents and educators can help children deal with life’s storms, whether they are hurricanes, rains of missiles, or the dark days of sickness?

Many therapeutic approaches to trauma include use of narratives.  It turns out that telling the story of a trauma often promotes healing.  Reading and writing stories are a natural for children and teens – a part of their normal, everyday experience.  They allow children to express themselves, or hear how others experienced and coped, and also allow children to go beyond reality, into the future and the faraway realms of imagination.

Storytelling and narrating can work for adults, too.   For several years, I have greatly enjoyed the free website Storybird.com, which provides anyone who registers for a free account with a platform for creating their own stories, inspired by or illustrated with professional artwork.   It is a very easy to use site, with a variety of styles of artwork, ranging from funny and edgy to whimsical and warm.  “Writers” of any age are welcome, and stories are all moderated before they are posted, to keep the website “family friendly”.    Stories can be co-authored by friends, and family, or teachers can create a class account and have individuals or groups create stories.  All stories can be downloaded and printed for a small fee, or shared electronically at no cost.

Searching Storybird for Hurricane related stories, I found a mother’s explanation for her displaced toddler daughter    (http://storybird.com/books/the-big-storm-in-my-city/  )  and a lyrical, poetic description of the storm and its aftermath (http://storybird.com/books/when-the-hurricane-came/).  There are simple descriptive stories by children (http://storybird.com/books/hurricane-sandy-2/   and http://storybird.com/books/hurricane-sandy-in-new-york-city/) and others urging readers to do something to help in the recovery (http://storybird.com/books/hurricane-sandy-12/).   I shared my ideas about storm and shunshine, trauma and healing in a storybird (http://storybird.com/books/storm-and-sunshine/).   There are also stories about Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami, personal illness and loss and healing from all types of trauma.  While each one is unique, they share the intimate view of a writer, child, teen, or adult, professional or lay person, making sense of a life challenge.  Once written, stories can be shared electronically with friends.  If authors “publish” their stories onto the website, they may receive the wonderful validation of having readers “heart” or comment on their stories, welcoming them into the storybird community of writers.

Writing does not work for everyone, and the readiness to share and process painful events varies.  Parents and educators should not “assign” or prescribe healing through writing, but offer this rich and accessible vehicle, or consider using it themselves.  Narrative therapists validate what experts in folktales and oral traditions have known for centuries.  Stories teach us.  Stories change us.  And stories can help us heal.  Months beyond the stormy days and chilled nights, we can warm ourselves and the children and students we care about, by sharing narratives of resilience and recovery.

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