I sit down at the end of my son’s bed at the end of what seems like an endless day. He is finally jammied up, teeth are reluctantly scrubbed and he is in bed ready for a story. We have finished all our library books so tonight mum has to provide the entertainment. Our conversation goes like this:
ME: Would you like me to make you a story?
ME: OK, what would you like the story to be about?
HIM I don’t know.
ME: OK, who would you like it to be about?
HIM: I don’t know.
ME: Well would you like it to be about a little boy? A dog? A monster?
HIM (starting to get upset) I’m just not sure!
ME: It’s OK, don’t worry. I’ll just start and if you have an idea you can tell me.
And I begin my story and he listens happily enough. We enjoy our time together but I wanted something more for him. I wanted him to feel that he could give me ideas for stories, that he could interrupt me and get involved and I worried that he never would.
The Sound of Silence
My son has selective mutism. I have written about the experience of discovering his diagnosis over here on BritMum’s. He is an anxious wee boy and as a mother it is heartbreaking to see both his creative potential and the way he holds himself back through fear in the same moment. I wanted to help him and I thought maybe stories would do the trick but we stalled at the first hurdle. He just couldn’t bring himself to get involved.
I considered just going back to the books and we do still read a lot. We love Roald Dahl in particular and also Sally Gardiner, but a lot of the children in these books weren’t like my son. So I made him his own stories. Stories that involved children like him, quite, nervous, fearful. Children facing situations that he was anxious about such as the dentist, and then just children overcoming their fears, being different, being brave in quiet ways.
Creating a Story Series
As we went on he began to ask for certain characters to reappear and so began our creation of a couple of story series. The first was Apple and Barley – a story about a special little boy whose sister goes missing and needs to found. This story is on-going still and we are currently in the midst of a magical land. Don’t ask me how it ends – I don’t know yet!
The next was a story about a boy and a magical train. This story I wrote in advance for him and is complete. We have a few chapters left to go before he gets to the end of it. In the story is a baddie called Sha, he is shadow, dark and scary. He talks about Sha when he sees a shadow passing by or a dark corner. We explore the idea of fear in a safe way and of course the little boy on the magical train is one he can relate to.
Break Through – It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
Both these stories have been great ways to start conversations and get my son more involved creatively in the story but neither triggered a full on involvement until one day I created The Village of Sweets and Treats. Apparently the saying is true. It takes a village to raise a child and in my son’s case it took a village to get him confident enough to contribute creatively.
In this series I tell a contained story each night that focusses on someone else in the village. It started with a jelly shop story, quickly followed by a chocolate shop, a donut shop and a fudge shop which is when I came up with the Village of Sweets and Treats.
Each night I would ask my son what the story was going to be about and instead of ‘I don’t know’ he would tell me. – a toy shop, a library, a school, a magic house. Then I would ask him who was in the story – a boy (often this!) or a man or woman who runs the shop. Then we would choose names – this can take some time, he is quite particular about the name. Then sometime he would even tell me what happened, other times he would leave it all to me.
This was a world away from where we were when we started and I am thrilled. Last night he didn’t just set the story up he interrupted me to add in details and direction. We began to tell the story together. Then as we were cleaning his teeth he told me what he wanted the story to involve tomorrow night. I’ve never been so happy to be interrupted as I was last night!
Not all children are like my son, many will dive right in there and get involved in the storytelling which is brilliant. But if you have a quieter child, or a child with particular needs such as my son, then stories can be a real confidence booster. You can create a special world for them and over time they will begin to create it with you.
Do you have a quite child? How have you managed to improve their confidence?