Telling the story

When something bad happens in your family, how do you respond? Our initial reaction as parents is to try and make everything better, skip over the negative stuff. We seek to heal the pain in our children as quickly as possible as though it never happened in the first place.

When we do this, what can this leave our children feeling?

Recently I was involved in a car accident with my 11 and 13 year old. Luckily none of us were physically hurt, we were all shaken up a bit and for me I was definitely experiencing shock for a couple of days.

The accident happened in the morning and afterwards we went about our day as normal it was the holidays so we were on our way to the beach.

I very nearly skimmed over the accident and didn’t consider allowing time and space for the children to talk about how they were feeling or how it may have impacted them in my attempt to enjoy our holiday.

Naming it

We learn on the Being a Parent course about acknowledging our feelings and the feelings of our children and I know from my reading around parenting that allowing our children to talk about their experiences and how it makes them feel is important for their brain development. So In the evening I made time for both of them to check in so that they could talk about what had happened and ask any questions they had.

My 13 year old asked..”Will you have to do a lot of paper work?” I replied that yes probably and they collectively sighed on my behalf which made me giggle. My 13 year old felt I was making a big deal about nothing as she was cool as a cucumber about the whole thing.

I knew that my son was not ok, he wasn’t talking so at bedtime we had a longer than normal hug. When I asked him if we wanted to talk about it and how he felt he shrank away. So I asked “would you like me to show you what happened to help you understand?”

 This was met with enthusiasm and grabbing a bunch of toy cars. We laid out on the bed and talked through each step. I shared what happened, when and why, he asked me questions I could answer and then he shared what it felt like for him.

I could acknowledge that it had left me feeling pretty shaky and would expect that they might feel the same and that this was a normal response when things like this happen.

Through reliving the experience in our play we were able to connect and share our feelings about what had happened and he was allowed to relate his feelings as a normal response to what had happened.

In the days that followed we were able to normalise and discuss what had happened and validate our feelings about the experience and acknowledge that we all felt differently.

The science

 I can’t protect my children from the challenges and bad things that can happen in life, I can equip them with the skills and resources that will help them to cope and thrive through all things that can come up for them as they grow.

I am reading The whole brain child by Dr D Siegel and Dr T Bryson their chapter on connecting right brain behaviour and left brain storytelling really helped me with helping my son with telling his story and connecting his feelings to his experience.

“Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully……

New findings in the field of neuroplasticity support the perspective that parents can directly shape the unfolding growth of their child’s brain according to what experiences they offer”(Page 8).

Next time you feel the urge to protect your child and make everything ok, stop and ask yourself how you can help them tell their story instead, notice the difference it makes.


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