Have Children Tell Stories to Reduce Anxieties

A toddler falls and scrapes an elbow. A kindergartner loses a beloved pet. A fifth-grader faces a bully at school. When a child experiences painful, disappointing, or scary moments, it can be overwhelming, with big emotions and bodily sensations flooding the right brain. When this happens, we as parents can help bring the left hemisphere into the picture so that the child can begin to understand what’s happening. One of the best ways to promote this type of integration is to help retell the story of the frightening or painful experience. Bella, for instance, was nine years old when the toilet overflowed when she flushed, and the experience of watching the water rise and pour onto the floor left her unwilling (and practically unable) to flush the toilet afterward. When Bella’s father, Doug, learned about the “name it to tame it” technique, he sat down with his daughter and retold the story of the time the toilet overflowed. He allowed her to tell as much of the story as she could and helped to fill in the details, including the lingering fear she had felt about flushing since that experience. After retelling the story several times, Bella’s fears lessened and eventually went away. Why was retelling the story so effective? Essentially, what Doug did was to help his daughter bring her left brain and her right brain together so she could make sense of what had happened. When she talked through the moment the water had started spilling on the floor and how she’d felt worried and afraid, her two hemispheres were working together in an integrated way. She engaged her left brain by putting the details in order and the experience into words, and then brought in her right brain by revisiting the emotions she felt. In this way, Doug helped his daughter name her fears and emotions so that she could then tame them.


Parents know how powerful storytelling can be when it comes to distracting their kids or calming them down, but most people don’t realize the science behind this powerful force. 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 healthy ways to everything from a scraped elbow to a major loss or trauma. What kids often need, especially when they experience strong emotions, is to have someone help them use their left brain to make sense of what’s going on—to put things in order and to name these big and scary right-brain feelings so they can deal with them effectively. This is what storytelling does: it allows us to understand ourselves and our world by using both our left and right hemispheres together. To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order, using words and logic. The right brain contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions, and personal memories, so we can see the whole picture and communicate our experience. This is the scientific explanation behind why journaling and talking about a difficult event can be so powerful in helping us heal. In fact, research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.


Having children tell and re-tell stories of traumatizing experiences can help them understand and master their feelings of it.

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 The Whole-Brain Child
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Siegel, Daniel J. and Bryson, Tina Payne (2011-10-04), The Whole-Brain Child, Random House LLC, Retrieved on 2013-12-27
  • Source Material [books.google.com]
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    05 JUN 2011

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