How Storytelling Can Help Overcome Frightening Events

Published on: October 12, 2018

Storytelling can be a powerful tool to help children process and understand past events as well as current and future challenges.

By Alexis Gorgun


41℃ is what the thermometer read when I measured my daughter’s temperature. She was down with a fever for a few days, and it kept climbing higher and higher. Once I read that temperature, I knew she had to go to the doctor.

The doctor immediately wanted a blood sample to run tests to determine the cause. However, my daughter was dehydrated, and only a trickle of blood could be drawn from her arm. The nurses had to hold her down tight and try to get more blood. To draw enough blood, they had to squeeze her hand strongly for 10 minutes.

Needless to say, the whole experience (accompanied with heavy crying) was traumatic for her.

My daughter was emotionally unsettled when we returned home from the hospital. I knew something had to be done; it was clear she needed to make sense of the experience so she could understand what had happened and deal with the feelings that were associated with it.

This is when I learned the benefits of replaying what happened through storytelling.

Making sense of emotions by revisiting the event

It is natural to think that revisiting such an event can cause more harm than good but it is actually the opposite. By not addressing the event, the child is left without any idea on how to make sense of their emotions and experience and put everything into context.

…it was clear she needed to make sense of the experience so she could understand what had happened and deal with the feelings

Most of us know about the two sides of the brain and their dominating functions. The left brain is logical, literal, and puts things in order. The right brain is emotional, nonverbal, and cares about the meaning of an experience. Depending on the age of your child and their personality, they can lean toward one particular “side” when dealing with strong emotions or frightening events.

We need to help our children connect the left brain’s logic and naming capabilities to the right brain’s big feelings in order to overcome emotional events.

The power of storytelling and repetition

How can we help make this connection? The answer is storytelling and repetition.

Storytelling can take on many different forms depending on the age of the child and the severity of the situation. It can range from playing or acting out what happened, to talking, or even creating a storybook. Yes, you read that right, a book to tell our stories.

Why would a book be useful? Children are used to reading and visualizing stories to learn and also spark their imagination.

Books are commonly used to prepare children for life changes; take for example the arrival of a new sibling. Books help teach children about sharing. Reading books is powerful as it also enables the need for repetition in children. Repetition helps clarify concepts, emphasize values, and instill boundaries.

Having a frightening event explained in a book form, especially with drawings, facilitates discussions. A book visually depicts the event so that the experience, memories, and feelings can be mentally organized into something more manageable.

Using a personal illustrated book

Utilizing my basic understanding about the brain, storytelling, and reading, I created a personal illustrated book for my daughter depicting her hospital visit by working with an artist to draw the story I created.

My daughter responded really well to the book as we could go over the event as a whole but also put into context the particularly frightening parts (e.g. blood samples) at her own pace.

My daughter was 14 months old at the time of the hospital event and didn’t have the vocabulary to be able to communicate how she was feeling. Seeing the pictures helped tremendously. If she was able to verbally communicate we would be able to have additional conversations and dialogue about the pictures/event to help her overcome the incident.

We now use various versions of storytelling in our everyday life. If my daughter falls down while running, we act out what happened in order to instantly put everything into context. If we have to prepare her for a life event (e.g. when my husband is away traveling for a week), we create an illustrative book for her.

Storytelling is such a great tool to help kids (and adults!) understand life events.


About the Author

Alexis is from the USA a mom of two girls. She is the founder and author of 123 Then Me, a company that makes custom stories for kids to help understand life events.

The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

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