Help your child get over a painful event with this age old strategy


The importance of stories

There is a reason why people have been telling each other stories since ancient history. Stories connect, stories engage, and stories pull people together. Stories calm and soothe big and scary emotions, and stories ultimately heal. This article discusses the power of stories to help calm and soothe your child, particularly after he or she experiences a difficult event.

Mental health as a state of brain integration

Dan Siegel, M.D., a leader in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, defines mental health as a state of brain integration. In other words, when the different parts of one's brain are operating in harmony, he or she can be more mentally flexible, emotionally stable, adaptable and peaceful, which is a great picture of mental health. When people seem to be swallowed by big emotions, and similarly when they seem to be emotionally void, there is a lack of brain integration and harmony. Stories can help encourage brain integration, and assist parents in calming their children down when emotions seem to take over.

How stories help integrate the brain

The human brain is divided into two hemispheres, a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere, which are anatomically separate and have different functions. The right hemisphere is associated with more non-verbal parts of life, including images and emotions.

The left hemisphere is responsible for the linear, logical and linguistic aspects of life. Emotions, for example, can seem completely irrational at times, which is because emotions are handled by the right hemisphere whereas rationality is handled by the left. The left hemisphere of your child's brain can therefore assist the right hemisphere in making sense of big feelings.

Using language, as with stories, helps bring the left brain online, and can help soothe an overwhelmed nervous system.

The use of stories with your upset child

When your child goes through something difficult, he or she will likely have large and potentially difficult emotions around the event. Stories can help your child not only make sense of the event but can literally calm your child's brain and settle some of the scary emotions he or she may be experiencing. Healing from traumatic and difficult events happens as a result of the left and the right hemisphere of the brain working together to conceptualize and share the story of the event. Sometimes telling stories over and over about the event may be necessary as part of the process of healing.

If your child seems reluctant to engage in the re-telling of what happened, it makes sense not to force him or her to speak, but rather, let him or her know that you are available to talk. It can be helpful to bring it up when your child is distracted by something else such as when they are playing or coloring or doing some other activity.

Children are often more likely to open up when the spotlight does not feel like it is directly on them, but when the environment is a bit more casual.

Either way, do not avoid speaking about the event. Sweeping it under the rug will do no one any favors. Help your child name what happened and put the story together so that they can move on from the event and be more neurologically integrated, and perhaps more resilient, in the process.


Siegel, D. J. and Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child's developing mind. Random House: New York.

Continue Reading