Exercise

■ Experiment with being both responsible and bold in your storytelling.

■ If you have a relationship with a child, whether personal or therapeutic, in which storytelling has not been a common part of your communication, test it out: Tell a story and see what difference it makes for both you and your listener.

4. Make the Story Fit

As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, there are three basic elements to storytelling: the storyteller, the listener or listeners, and the processes ofcommunication. The story is going to be most effective if it fits or matches all three of these variables.

First, it facilitates identification with the story if there is a match between the character ofthe story and the character of the client. A colleague, clinical psychologist Elaine Atkinson, who helped contribute with several conversations during the planning ofthis book, works with different metaphor material at different age levels for the children she sees. She commented that preschool children tend to communicate metaphorically in play with toys. In early primary-school years, animal stories tend to be more popular, whereas after that age group, children get into hero stories whose protagonists may vary from cartoon characters to movie characters like Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins. Based on your knowledge of these characters and their significance in the life ofyour child or teenage client, it is possible to construct a hero story that quickly and effectively facilitates identification with the story. Further discussion of this can be found in the section entitled "Metaphors Built on Heroes" in Chapter 15.

To give some ideas of how to adapt a story to fit children of different developmental stages, genders, and interests, I have based the first two stories in each chapter from 4 through 12 on a similar theme, with the first of each pair directed toward kids and the second to teens. Stories 2 and 3 both speak about how children can make a difference, with the first being a fantasy that has similarities to the familiar story of Goldilocks and the second being the true tale of a teenage boy. Stories 11 and 12 have the common problem of being in an unfamiliar, fearful situation, with the character of the kid story being a young octopus out of its depth and the character of the teen story an adolescent who's gone too far from shore on his new surfboard. While the therapeutic characteristics of the stories remain much the same, the characters and context change to match the listener.

Second, in addition to the story's fitting the client, it helps if the story fits for the teller. Only by telling a story that you enjoy, one that presents you with a challenge or that involves your enthusiasm, can you tell it effectively for your listener. I invite you to see the stories I have provided in Part Two as "story ideas" rather than immutable tales. They just happen to be stories that I have used with one child at one point in time. They are stories I like telling, and are comfortable or enjoyable for me to tell. If you find an idea that you consider worth adopting please feel free to develop it into your own story. The child listener is more likely to enjoy and be absorbed in the story if the storyteller is also absorbed and interested in the tale.

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