Saturday, November 20, 2010

Better Sleep Through Storytelling

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PunkyBandKitKatC said...

Is there an age at which children are too old to benefit from this telling of their birth? I mean, Beata remembered her experience, but would my 5 yr-old? What if what may have been difficult for them is not obvious to us?

Thank you, this is a very intriguing topic!

brenkachicka said...

This rings so true.
My adopted five year old came to us at 13 months old. He had been in foster care since 4 months old. He was removed from his birth mother when she was arrested for steeling a car. One day as we were leaving a busy store parking lot he saw a beautiful young woman (who looked a lot like his birth mom) in the back of a squad car. HE FLIPPED. It was traumatic for him, but at the same time theraputic for us to talk about it. Another time as I was navigating through some road construction by our home a police car turned on it's lights to signal to me to show me the way through the construction. He FLIPPED. He thought I was going to go to jail and never be his mommy again. Amazing how those experiences stick. Our brains are amazing.

Cara said...

I think my 17 month old could benefit from this story telling strategy but I am unsure how to go about it. At his age he doesn't understand as much as the 2.5yr old you wrote about. You mention that even infants can benefit, but how? Do I just talk about it with him during the day, like he would understand? Do I act something out with him and his baby doll? Help please! I'd really like to try this.

Lianne said...

I work at TCPP and love this whole topic, and I especially love the series with Beth and Scott.

I have been doing some story telling with my kids since this has come up in my work - they are 5.5 (son) and 2.5 years old (daughter).

I don't think there's ever an age they wouldn't benefit from story telling. My son LOVES for me to tell him about the day he was born. He has expressed anger when I talk about the pushing phase (I pushed for 2.5 hours). I had a wonderful homebirth, and would say it was practically perfect, but my labor was long and tiring (21 hours). I don't think there was any real *trauma* for him I could identify, aside from being squeezed for a long time (that is how he describes it) but it is very connecting for us when I tell him about it and he frequently asks me to tell him his birth story. :)

My daughter has also enjoyed listening to hers (in more simple terms since she is younger). I have done story telling with her, though, related to trauma she experienced at 19mo and without a doubt I can tell you that it has helped her to heal from that trauma.

Finally, I have had benefits myself from hearing more about my own story, and I'm 29! I was born via c-section and separated for a short time from my mother because of breathing difficulty. Just learning more about the details of that time has helped me in different ways, I think.

So I think it certainly wouldn't hurt, and could be helpful no matter what the child's age. It is a great point that what could have been hard on the baby may not be obvious. Some people talk about how they had a "quick, uneventful birth" - but maybe the quickness of the birth was traumatic for the baby. Who knows? You don't have to have the answers - just tell the story, and allow whatever feelings you feel or your child feels to come up and be acknowledged.

I do story telling when we're all calm and feeling connected, and from the point of view of "this is what happened, and this is how I felt about it." When I get to points that I wish had gone differently, I say that. "You were breathing really fast, so the midwife was holding you for a while to check your breathing. Daddy was right there with you, talking to you and you looked at him while you waited for mama to nurse you. I wish I had been holding you all that time."

Hope that helps some. I'm sure Rebecca will be back to talk more but I wanted to share some of my own experience with it.

Jennifer said...

Where can I get more resources on this? My 13 month old was in the NICU for 3 weeks and id love to find a way to communicate it to him

Kel said...

I had a difficult unplanned, unexpected early induction (due to intrauterine growth restriction) and very hard labor, lots of trouble bonding - was seperated from baby a lot during the first 5 days and she was bottle fed in the hospital at their insistence. Took weeks at home to get brestfeeding established. Severe postpartum depression that went ignored. Daughter is now 4. She had bad sleep issues until age 3 and it is better now but still not great, what should I tell her? The bonding was a real problem and I could not admit it to anyone at the time for fear of judgement. When going to the hospital nursery I wasn't always sure I recognized her. All mothers should recognize their own babies, right? Clearly there was something horribly wrong with me that I didn't. How much of this does she need to know?

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

PunkyBandKitKatC- There isn't an age that children are too old to benefit from the telling of their birth story. In fact, as an adult, I have been asking a lot of questions about my own birth and seeking to understand more about the impact my birth had on me (positive and negative). I've spent quite a bit of time lately talking to my older son about his birth and he's almost 12.

A few months ago, I did several sessions with a 5 year old girl who had experienced a very difficult birth. I'll be writing about that next week so that you can hear what it looked like for her.

When you tell a birth story to a child, pay attention to their body movements, sounds, and actions. It will tell you the parts that they had difficulty with. And if you pay attention to when you tell the story and notice if you start talking louder or faster, that is a big clue that there is something that isn't fully processed yet.

Thank you for your question!

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

brenkachicka- Great examples. Our young children are actually taking in quite a bit and can be triggered by similar sounds, sights, smells, touches, etc coming into the old, reptilian part of the brain. I love hearing how you were able to connect the two for him and that create the space to talk about it. Yes, our brains really are amazing! Thank you for sharing your story.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Cara- The strategies that I include in my post next week will help. I did a session a couple weeks ago with a little girl who was 16 months and it was incredible. Just the telling of the story captivated her in a way that is hard to describe in writing- spell-bound, looking intensely into her mother's eyes as she told the story. As the story teller, you're going to use words. It is amazing how much they understand, even as newborns. Thank you for your question! I'd love to hear if you try it out. But do watch for my post next week for some more hints. :-) You can also go back to the original audio and listen to that for more ideas. It is highlighted in the blog post, but let me know if you need it again.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Lianne. Storytelling has so many uses and not just related to sleep. When we embrace it as an opportunity to connect with our children and we enter into the conversation with an open mind and curiosity, we may discover lots of things that our children are communicating to us. I think a peaceful night sleep or a shift in our relationship is just the gravy. When we feel more connected, it allows everyone to shift.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Jennifer- you might want to listen to the free audio I did with Ray. Here's the link:

It'll give you a good start for understanding more about telling stories to your children. And watch for my blog post next week because I'll be giving more specifics for story telling then.

Rebecca Thompson, M.S., MFT said...

Kel- From what you described, it sounds like you had a very normal response to a very upsetting and unexpected turn of events. Be gentle with yourself and know that you did the best you could at the time. You may want to spend some time writing or talking about the experience with someone who can just listen to what happened as a nonjudgmental listener. Before telling your daughter her story, spend some time with it yourself. When you're ready, you can tell her what happened and how neither of you were expecting it to happen that way. Just keep it simple and use words like, "The doctors felt they needed to help you come out sooner to keep us both safe" or whatever was true for you. And you can talk about how the transition was hard for both of you. I like to end storytelling something like this by saying how you wanted it to be. You cannot go back and make it different, but you can choose to connect with her in this moment and create a new version of the story.

Keep watching the blog. We'll be including lots more information for you to support you in being able to tell the story and create more connection in your family. Thank you for your question, Kel.

Kristen said...

what can you tell children who are adopted, when you have no birth parent information....really NO information about most of the first year of their life? My daughter was adopted from China...we know that she was "abandoned" at 2 days old, and was in foster care from that day until we adopted her at age 10 months. She has trauma issues and extreme anxious attachment. We dont know if her issues are a result of traumatic events experienced in her foster home, as a result of losing her birth om...or as a result of the trauma of being taken from her foster mom and birth country.

Amy said...

My children's situation is a little different, they are both my birth children but were both sexually abused by a family member who lived with us. One was 5 and the other was 15 months. I don't know how long it happend for and I don't know the details but now, 3 years later my daughters both have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. This article, reffered to me by my daughters' therapist, really puts their sleep issues into perspective for me. If someone came into my room at night and did to me what this person did to my girls, I bet I would have problems with sleep too. Do you have any suggestions on what story to tell them? Thank you.

Lisa said...

I am so wowed by this! Rebecca, this is my first visit to your blog Every aspect of this resonates with my life.

I tell stories with children and have an article just published at:

I am adopted and experienced years of anger around it and finally came to peace with it as an adult after hearing the Waldorf birthday story for adopted children. My anger and questioning just evaporated.

I have a child who spent six weeks in the NICU.

I firmly believe each and every one of us needs to have the experience of being seen, heard and felt by the people in our lives.

thank you Rebecca, this is so healing