Most adoptive parents tell a variation on the story, “The Day We Met You,” or “Our Story,” or “How You Came Into My Life.” This story shares the adoption preparation the parents went through, the day we met you, our first weeks together, and sometimes even further into family life. The goal is to help a child who was adopted to understand and appreciate their place in the family. Depending on the age of the child, the type of adoption, etc, the story is also meant to help a child to understand the similarities and differences in the story of their life from other siblings and friends.
During my daughter, Hannah’s, attachment therapy, the therapist read therapeutic stories to Hannah. These were stories that provided new ways for Hannah to understand and examine her emotions. The therapist also had me tell Hannah variations of the “Hannah story.” Throughout Hannah’s therapy, I’ve become convinced of the power of storytelling to heal and comfort.
A story can be therapeutic because you’re pointing out that another person/character is similar to your own child. It can be therapeutic because you’re giving your child an example of how to deal with a big emotion. It can be therapeutic because it’s giving your child a new way to look at themselves in a new, more positive way.
If you’re not experienced at telling your children stories, let me share a few tips to get you started with general storytelling:
- Spend some time planning the story before you tell it.
- Make your main character similar, yet slightly different from your own child. I often use animals as characters, but you can use people, fairies, boats, trains, or whatever you’re comfortable with. In developing the character, make some facts similar and some different to your own child’s life and looks.
- Decide the one most important theme, moral, or emotion you want to convey, rather than trying to fit too many things into the story.
- Change your voice to fit the circumstances. If it’s an exciting part, raise your voice. If it’s a scary part, whisper.
- If it seems appropriate, use a prop. For example, if the story is about starting a new school, use a book bag. Or if the main character is a rabbit, use a toy stuffed rabbit.
- Use occasional sound and movement effects. Knock on the wall when someone knocks at a door. Clap your hands if someone is very happy. Hum if someone is supposed to be contented. Run your fingers up your child’s arm if the character is running.
- If you’re stuck and not sure how to continue the story, or your child starts to get sleepy, say part of a sentence and end with, “And then!” Tell your child you’ll continue it later or tomorrow. It’ll give you time to re-think the story or to re-evaluate and change directions.
- At the end, just end the story. Don’t explain or summarize. Stories are a powerful way to plant seeds– to introduce ideas. Leaving children with some pieces to think about is good.
Therapeutic stories give children new ways to look at difficult issues in their lives. It allows them to understand and feel emotions and issues in new ways.
Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan’s training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She’s also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support.