Whole-Brain Child Strategy #2: “Name it to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions”

This is the 7th post in my ongoing series on the book, The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Today we look at strategy #2.

11974631-largeI’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the blog, but that ended up being a good thing in terms of this blog series on the strategies in The Whole Brain Child.

Why? Well, because we were gone on vacation which meant lots of long car drives, exhausting days, tired parents and kids, and lots of emotions (coming from both parents and kids).

So let’s just say I had ample time to try all 12 of the strategies at one time or another. Sometimes they were met with great success, and sometimes they were met with great failure.

That being said, today we are going to look at Whole Brain Strategy #2: “Naming it to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions. In the book, Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write the following:

“The right side of our brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories, but our left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections. Healing from a difficult experience emerges when the left side works with the right to tell our life stories. When children learn to pay attention to and share their own stories, they can respond in a healthy ways to everything from a scraped elbow to a major loss or trauma.” (pp. 28-29)

Over the last several months in our house we went from great nights of uninterrupted sleep to a disturbance from one of our kids almost every night at about the same time. Without fail, either my six year old daughter or three year old son would start crying or calling for my wife and I at about 1:30am. (I won’t lie, when I heard the noise I usually prayed that they were calling out “mommy”…or sometimes I might pretend like I was dead to the world. My wife and I have admitted as much. I know you know what I’m talking about).

Since my son started sleeping through the night a couple of years ago my wife and I weren’t used to getting up every night, but both my kids seemed to be struggling with some bad dreams and fears. So this new interruption in our sleep wasn’t very helpful and I didn’t always handle it well. Sure I was calm, patient, and would usually lay down in bed with them till they fell back asleep. But usually when they told me they were scared I would usually dismiss it with statements like “You aren’t really scared.” Or, “There is nothing to be afraid about.” And sometimes, “I’m so tired, just go back to bed.”

I rarely gave my children the opportunity to tell me the story behind their fears. That’s hard to do at 2am when you are barely coherent yourself. But the more I allowed my kids to tell me the story about their fears, the more they were able to make sense of them and remove the fear by the very act of saying it out loud. And we were all back to sleep very quickly.

Honestly, this is a pretty simple strategy, and I’ve been able to use it effectively in examples like I gave above, to other times when my kids have crashed on their scooters or been fearful about an event at school.

Everyone loves stories and helping your kids learn how to connect to their feelings through story is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

Whether we are talking about night terrors, bruised knees, or a child experiencing the painful loss of family through a divorce, I’ve come to really understand that stories help children make sense of the world…and more importantly, stories help kids communicate their feelings in an effective and healthy way to those around them. Siegel and Bryson write:

“This is what storytelling does: it allows us to understand ourselves and our world by using both our left and right hemisphere together….

For this same reason, it’s important for kids of all ages to tell their stories, as it helps them try to understand their emotions and the events that occur in their lives. Sometimes parents avoid talking about upsetting experiences, thinking that doing so will reinforce their children’s pain or make things worse. Actually, telling the story is often exactly what children need, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened.” (pp. 29)

So next time you are faced with an injured or scared kid, use this strategy to help them convey to you how they feel in the form of a story. And as they do that, I believe you will begin to see positive changes in their ability to be emotionally healthy. And you will see changes in you as well.

Check Out The Other Posts In This Series
Whole-Brain Strategy #1: ‘Connect and Redirect: Surfing Emotional Waves’

Brain Integration: Finding the Balance Between Chaos and Rigidity

Brain Plasticity: In What Ways Are You Molding Your Child’s Brain?

Parenting with the Brain in Mind (Our Kid’s and Ours)

The Whole-Brain Child: Parents, How is Your Brain Functioning?

My Experiment in Learning and Implementing ‘The Whole-Brain Child Approach’ to Parenting