“Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a beautiful princess named Ellie…” And so it goes. Night after night. Adventure after adventure. “Ellie Stories” have become a nightly ritual in our home, thanks to my daughter’s first teacher at Educare. Aria, my daughter, is the definition of an empath. She feels, and takes on, the emotions of others. She understands things, and experiences life with so much emotion that oftentimes it is difficult for her to process. She deals with anxiety, sadness, and feelings that are hard to help her through. Out of this grew “Ellie Stories.”
Ellie is her beloved stuffed elephant. She goes everywhere with us, and has been Aria’s comfort item since she got it as a gift on her first birthday. After seeing Aria’s struggles during the school day, her teacher started creating a series of social stories, using Ellie as the main character. (Social stories are a technique that aims at exploring social situations and interactions, with the goal of helping someone understand appropriate responses to what is going on around them.)
She would sit with Aria at nap time and make up a scenario for Ellie to go through – something that mirrored an experience she had had that day.
- Using words to get her needs met
- Trouble sharing with friends
- Having a hard time being patient
- A moment of fear that Ellie would have to work through, etc.
As Ellie would have these experiences, her teacher would stop to ask questions.
- “Oh no! Ellie’s friend took the purple marker she was using. What should she do?”
- “Ellie really wants that bike! But her friend isn’t done using it yet. Do you know what Ellie could do while she is waiting?”
- “I can tell that Ellie really wants her teacher to come see the blocks that she stacked up really high. How could she get her teacher’s attention without using her outside voice?”
- “Ellie is really angry right now! Do you know what she could do to help calm herself down?”
Aria always knew the answer, or could easily be coached in the right direction, as long as she was problem solving for someone else. It is always easier to give advice than to take it, right?
As we would help Ellie navigate her problems and find solutions, Aria would build confidence in her own problem solving abilities. She could think objectively, and I could help her in a way that eliminated tears, fits, and whining. It is always a great moment to make the connection between Ellie’s adventure and Aria’s difficulty that day. To see the lightbulb go on in her head; to realize she found her own solution to something she struggled with earlier; is magical. The lesson lasts a lot longer when it hasn’t been learned out of discipline or correction; but through a story.
We have used this technique for years now. It has become a staple in our bedtime routine, and a much anticipated time to reflect on our day. We have used it as a way to start conversations on so many topics:
- Safe Touching
- Sibling Rivalry
- Helping around the house
- Peer pressure
The list is endless; as are the lessons. I’ve heard Aria make up social stories when she is having trouble with her little brother. She tells them to her dolls, and even to me. If you are ever looking for a safe and easy way to bring up hard things, find a favorite toy, and tell your child a story. You might be surprised at how well it works!