Teaching Peace with Elyse: The Power of Story for Managing Emotions!

After having created a documentation board from my Oct. 15 blog on developing EQ in preschoolers, I hung it by the window where the children draw.

The four4-year-old depicted in this blog about managing emotions was again feeling sad. This time it was not missing his papa that caused the sadness, but, due to a conflict with two of his friends.

“Remember when you were sad about missing papa?," I asked.?  He nodded.

“You went to the window and drew a picture of him. Later, I wrote a story about what happened for other teachers. Would you like to see what I wrote?"

He nodded, took my hand and together we walked over to the window. We sat before the board that was hung at child’s-eye level and I began to read:

A four-year-old stood at the window in the expressive arts room. The paper, crayons and markers usually kept on the ledge had been moved.
"Can I draw at the window?." the boy asked, looking sad.
"Are you missing your family?" I guessed.
He nodded. Paper and large crayons were gathered for him.  With the help of his teacher, he taped the paper to the window and drew a circle, then two dots inside representing the eyes.
When asked whom he had drawn, he said, "My papa."

I observed the nodding of his head and continued reading. In the middle of the story, I saw his expression begin to change when I read,

“His friend, who had also been observing, joined him at the window. They stood side by side, as did their drawings."

The sadness seemed to be lifting. By the time I read the story’s ending, his facial expression had grown bright and open.

"I forgot the nose," the other boy said, adding a third dot to his drawing.
The one who missed his papa looked at his friend’s drawing and then back at his own.
"I don’t need a nose," he said, pleased with his own artistry.

He smiled broadly and asked if his friend, who was now in a different group, had heard the story. When I said that he hadn’t,  he looked at me quite seriously and said, "When Ravi comes in, read it to him, too."

Then, saying, “I want to draw again,” he taped paper to window and drew a new self-portrait.

The broad smile he’d drawn matched his own, as the power of story had helped transform his emotions.

Teacher Sharing:

Emotions, particularly in young children, can be as fluid as they are intense. Sometimes what seems like a small problem to us feels like a very big one to the children. At these times it may be difficult for them to gain either perspective or containment. Often, the feeling escalates.

Feelings are more readily released when they are first acknowledged by others, particularly adults. When a child feels heard and understood they are more willing to find ways to be comforted or to self-soothe.

Our ability to be present and actively listen plays an important role in how quickly those emotions can be channeled into artful and appropriate expression. One form that has proven effective is story.,

The four-4 year-old mentioned in the blog was soothed by a story about his previous sadness. It depicted how he had been able to transform his feelings through art and friendship. With his current sadness  acknowledged, he was willing to choose a tool that had worked for him before. He drew a new picture that showed his return to feeling happy. Afterwards, he was again able to join his two friends in play.

Suggestions:

There are a myriad of ways to create stories with children. I’m offering a few ideas that have worked well for me. The first is helpful in the midst of a child’s feeling strong emotion. The second can be used when you notice a child successfully managing his or /her own emotions. The third can be suggested after a group of two or more children have sat down together to work out a conflict.

  1. Let the child dictate to you how they are feeling, writing down everything they say and prompting with,: "Is there anything else?" until the emotion becomes tangible in written form. This idea was taught by Belann Giarretto, executive director of Pacific Primary. The staff uses this tool often. It is particularly effective when a child’s parents or caregivers have left the school after drop-off. Strong feelings are dictated to a teacher in the form of a letter home. This concrete expression of a child’s feelings and what they need has been embraced by children and teachers alike.
  2. After noticing how a child has successfully managed his own emotions, let them know that you observed their success. Then, together, you can create a story based on what happened. Ask how they were feeling.  What happened next? What tool did they use to comfort themselves?, Then what happened? Noting and acknowledging any change in emotion, you write their story.
  3. Two or more children were involved in a conflict that brought up strong emotions. The children had found a solution with or without facilitation. Ask the group to remember the sequence of how they found a solution. The process is then documented in story form.

Finished stories can be kept in a special place for the children to look at on their own. They may also desire to read along with you. Like other favorite stories, they soon memorize the words:; their own words.  Copies can be made for them to take home.

Would love to hear and share your process of story creation. Will gladly credit you with any ideas sent.