Dayna Sharp, LCSW
How to Write and Use Social Stories for Kids
Social Stories are a great way for kids to learn about themselves and their relationship with the world around them. In my experience, kids enjoy reading them, they learn a lot from them, and they love the thought and effort that you've put into them. It's a great way to show them that you're listening and that you're doing the best you can to help them. This in itself can help kids to feel more safe and more confident! At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, I often write them for the kids who I work with, and I encourage parents to do so if it feels right for them.
Where Do I Start?
1. Begin either a new Powerpoint presentation or a Google Slide document. Each slide will be a page of your book.
2. Draft a short but telling title. What is the issue? What will catch the child's attention while also letting them know what the story will be about. Use a picture, taken from the internet, of a child that looks similar to your child, but obviously isn't the same.
3. If a child has a serious behavior issue, or a developmental delay, I often start out very matter-of-factly. "Sometimes a new student comes to our class...". When there is room to be more abstract, I like beginning the story like a fairy tale. "Once upon a time, there was a boy...". When writing more abstractly, I recommend starting off with positives--they can be exaggerated for fun. "Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a big home, with a family who loved him very much. The boy loved his school, had lots of friends, and felt lucky that he got the best teacher in second grade".
4. On the next page, illustrate the problem. "But, one thing the boy did not like was bedtime". Go deeper. "At night, when the lights went out and he was alone in his room, he would start to think Worry thoughts, and then he would be too afraid to sleep". Include a picture of a scared child in bed--but not too scared. You might even include thought bubbles that say "Worry Thoughts".
5. The next page could outline the consequences of the "problem". For example, "The worst part was that when he had the Worry thoughts, the boy had trouble sleeping. And when the boy didn't sleep enough, he could be grouchy in school--or even fall asleep! Then he would miss his favorite parts of school--art and writing!". Include more pictures, I would choose one of a grouchy child and another on the other side of the page of children having fun, reinforcing the message that not sleeping keeps the child from his favorite things. Make sure the details are relevant to your child--what would your child actually miss if they fell asleep in school?
6. The next step is to provide positive coping skills and to re-define the "problem". "The boy was sad about his sleeping trouble and Worry thoughts. His mom tried to help him. She explained that they were just thoughts--they weren't real. And the boy knew they weren't real. After all, he had slept 9 years, more than 3,000 nights, and he has always been safe! Every night! What he really was afraid of was the Worry thoughts".
7. If your child has or can draw a picture of "Worry" or whatever the problem is, use it in the story. If not, find something on the internet. Write to show your child the inner skills they already have to stand up to/cope with the problem. From this moment on, always externalize the problem--they are not the problem, they do not have the problem, it is a problem that is somewhat affecting them. "The boy learned that the Worry was a kind of bully that tried to scare kids. But the boy also knew that he was brave--after all, he had won first place in his Karate group!" Show a picture of the child being brave.
8. Now is the time to outline the plan of action. "The boy was ready to stand up to the Bedtime Bully and its Worry thoughts. He made the following plan of action:
The boy decided to keep a nightlight on in his room.
Before bed, he would listen to stories on the Calm App while falling asleep to keep his mind busy.
When he heard the Bedtime Bully whispering Worry thoughts, the boy would remind himself that it was only Worry thoughts, that they were annoying, but that they couldn't hurt him, and that he had been safe every night for over 3,000 nights. He would be safe again tonight.
The boy would also remind himself that Mom loved him very much and would be checking on him before she went to bed."
Include a small picture of the child being brave.
9. Finally, show your child as victorious. The next morning, the boy work up refreshed and excited for his day at school. He had done it! He had stood up to the Bedtime Bully! And now he knew he could do it again! And every night that he stood up to the Bully, the Bully got smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker. And pretty soon, there was no more Bedtime Bully, no more Worry thoughts. The boy lived happily ever after".
10. Enjoy reading the story with your child, and allow them to read it as they wish. It can be helpful for them to organize all the things that they've learned about their problem, and their abilities to cope with it.
And that's it! That's the method behind the Social Story! Print out your document, and you will have a "book" that you can read with your child! Use the social story to organize and emphasize what they have learned about the "problem", to highlight the skills your child has to cope with the problem, and to remind the child of their plan of action. *The plan of action is always more effective when your child participates in brainstorming the ideas.* Most importantly, Social Stories are a wonderful way to re-connect with your child during difficult times. It's a tangible reminder that you are on their team and that you believe in them!