How Do Stories Help Kids Process New Information?

How Do Stories Help Kids Process New Information?

25 October 2022 • Words by Karla Pretorius 5 mins

As a therapist, I often find my clients relate to stories of my own life, experiences, and sometimes misfortune more calmly than if they have to explain their own, perhaps maladaptive behaviors. When we open up our vulnerability with a new therapist, we might feel they will judge us or think we have so much to learn. But if we hear a story that we can relate to and then share our own thoughts, experiences, and traumas, we feel safer, more accepted, and less different.

Our children are similar. They want to feel understood, accepted, and safe. New information, such as things to learn or do differently, can be scary and somewhat intimidating if a child feels there is no person or experience they can relate the new information to; but if they feel a sense of camaraderie through listening to someone’s else story, they might feel less intimidated and more receptive.

Why storytelling

When I think back to my childhood, I still believe there is a little Ariel in me from The Little Mermaid and April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I would look at and listen to these stories and feel less alone when I was scared or felt a bit unsure. I would harness the character’s perceived strength and try ideas that worked for them. And I thought to myself, “Maybe I can run like April or swim away like Ariel.” Our children have different role models these days, of course, and stories for kids have evolved to include much more social and emotional learning as well as coping strategies, but the purpose they can serve remains very much the same.  

Picture this:

Your child feels uneasy about transitioning from summer vacation to a new school year. They are unsure of what to expect. Will they have the same friends or perhaps make new ones? Will their teacher be friendly? What will the classroom be like? Now imagine your child can relate their experience to that of Blurp the Batty Bubblefish, who provides some ideas in a calm, reassuring manner on how to think of the experience of going back to school as fun and exciting. Now it is not just your child alone with their new experience; it becomes universal, less scary, and more intriguing. 

Story characters can become our kid’s heroes, virtual friends, and mentors for those trickier transitions or environments. Similar to the story of Blurp going back to school, Growing a Mind Garden with Pooky helps children fall asleep with a soothing, meditative story. These types of stories can assist with dreaming by setting the scene for the child’s imagination to evolve and building healthy habits of going to bed in a calm and relaxed state while thinking of transitions, such as going back to school. 

Storytelling as the universal language across all cultures:

Cultures might change, and people might look different from one another, but we feel emotions in a universal language. Stories from one country or culture might be told in a different language than another’s, but still the feeling we get when we remember our favorite character fighting off some of their fears is universal. 

When we look at stories highlighting social and emotional learning for children, they usually involve a situation or character with a problem. The character has a choice, and when they choose the solution that might be a bit more difficult but that they intrinsically know is the better option, they succeed in the long run. That is life—and all the lessons we learn living ours—in a nutshell, really. We have a choice of paths, and if we choose the one that might seem a bit bumpy at first, we will get to the plethora of possibilities for our own success.

Some of us might remember stories told around a campfire, and others remember with fondness their bedtime routine that included a story told by their parents. There might be times when we are taught a few lessons through stories, and other times when we are thoroughly entertained by the different stories we hear. Whatever the format or content of a story, we can all relate to the power of storytelling in some way or another.

Simple template for telling stories to your children:

One way to help our children relate to storytelling is to create it ourselves. Don’t worry—I know how busy you are, and I won’t add to your mountain of responsibilities. This exercise could double as your child’s calm-down and bedtime routine. Before you start, write down situations where your child flourishes and where they struggle in. We want to focus on a combination of positive and not-so-positive situations to ensure our child is not feeling like they are being observed through a magnifying glass, which almost always increases anxiety. 

Once you have your list, create a story with your child.

You can set the stage and bring in one of their favorite characters from a different story—for example, what about including YaYa the Zonkey, a calming character who helps children decrease worry and increase fun? YaYa can be the character in a story you and your child create together that includes a situation your child struggles in. Perhaps your child is worried about an upcoming test. In the story, YaYa is busy with exams and feels super nervous. What are five things YaYa can do to calm their nerves before the exam? Your child can then help think of ideas and write them down, draw them out, or even find pictures in a book to paste into a blank notebook, creating your very own storybook. 

The next step is to bring your child into these situations.

You can start with a positive situation, where you bring your child into the story you collaboratively tell. You can even create short voice clips as part of the process, where you tell the story together. If you want to address a challenging situation in a story, remember to include a coping strategy for your child. For example, if your child is worried about an upcoming school trip, you can ask them to choose their favorite Moshi character and then make up a story together about the character going on the trip with the child. 

Examples of Moshi Stories and Moments that help kids process new information/emotions:

Moshi is an excellent tool to utilize in helping your child learn to process new information and emotions. Here are some examples of stories to explore with your kids: 

Lights Out, Tuco tells the story of Garish Glamingo, who learns to love the dark even though he lives in a very colorful Moshi-world during the day. This story could help foster confidence in children at night. 

Fluttercup’s School for Unicorns supports children’s imagination and love for unicorns. Gigi will take your child on a magical journey with the legendary unicorn, Fluttercup, and show them why they are just as special as these mystical creatures. 

Chop Chop’s Jungle Japes will help children learn how Chop Chop, the Cheeky Chimp, shares and take turns. 

It is not always the lessons we learn, but rather the stories we hear, that remind us how to model some of these ways of learning new or overwhelming information. As Dr. Seuss states so beautifully, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Karla Pretorius

A registered counselor with a MA in Psychology. Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental