How Stories Build Experience

One ofthe things that differentiate children from adults is their level ofexperience. For a young child, life's experiences are still few. The older we get, usually the more experiences of life we encounter; consequently, one of the major roles of parents, teachers, and therapists is to provide the sort of experiences that are going to equip the child for what lies ahead. This is one of the basic processes of learning for our species: We learn through experience; experience is one of the best teachers; the more we experience, the greater our potential to learn; and the greater our ability to handle life's various, challenging situations.

Some of the experiences ofchildhood are positive: the intimacy ofsuckling on a breast, the smiling face of a parent looking at a young child in a crib, times of play, or the discovery of a new ability like standing on your feet for the first time. There are also experiences that may be negative or unpleasant: death or separation from a parent, an environment of conflict or hostility, the pain of illness, or rejection by peers. The way a young child learns to respond to these life experiences will be determined by how prepared they are for such an experience; and that, in turn, will determine to a large degree how they handle their adulthood, for our quality of life is largely a product of how we manage experience. The more experiences we can create for a child, and the better equipped they are for handling experience, the more we help ensure their well-being for the future.

It has been said—perhaps cynically, but also with some veracity—that experience is what you get after you needed it. Metaphors are one way ofproviding children with experiences that they may not yet have encountered and of equipping them with skills for such real-life situations when they arise. Therapeutic tales can anticipate challenges or problems a child may yet have to encounter, and model problem-solving skills or potential methods for managing such challenges, thus helping to prepare the child for when the need is present.

Throughout Part Two, you will find a variety ofhealing stories that are designed not just to deal with a situation when it occurs but also to prepare the listener for a potential occurrence. A child may be helped to prepare for the death of an aging grandparent or much loved pet through stories about managing grief(see Stories 51 and 52) that communicate it is appropriate to grieve, that describe the rituals of burial, and that find strategies for saying good-bye—experiences a child may not have encountered or be prepared for. Other as-yet-to-be-experienced situations may include dealing with an issue of morality (Stories 61 and 62, "Facing a Moral Dilemma"), being confronted by a trauma (Stories 71 and 72, "Overcoming Adversity"), starting at a new school (Story 87, "Facing Changes"), being involved in a motor vehicle accident (Story 88, "Getting Back on Your Feet"), encountering drugs (Story 86, "Finding Solutions," and Story 90, "Learning to Care for Yourself"), or experienc ing suicidal thoughts (Story 89, "Facing Thoughts of Suicide"). The more your stories can anticipate such experiences, the feelings they might engender, and the types of things the child might do to handle them effectively, the more you are giving your child to better manage such experiences when they do come along—and the more you are helping prepare him or her for a future as an effective, functional adult.

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