My eldest son was sitting stiffly in the dentist’s chair looking a little pale. The hygienist had just ticked through what was about to unfold and my boy wanted no part of it. He wished to be brave, however, and he locked his eyes on me and asked, “Can you tell me a story?”
Within that question were several requests: “Can you help me relax?” “Can you help me be brave?” “Can you distract me for a moment?” “Can you explain why this is happening?” Of course I wanted to help him and to offer the perfect cocktail of therapy, empathy and entertainment that would strengthen and relax him through the impending procedure.
But I had to tell it immediately – and in that moment, I had nothing.
So what to do?
What to do when you have two rambunctious kids in the backseat and another 20 minutes until you arrive?
What to do when you are exhausted and your daughter demands a story before bed?
What to do when the plane hits some turbulence and your son starts to worry?
In these days we are quick to reach for technology. The convenience, the portability, the effectiveness and the variety are all real and true. The TV, mp3 player, cellphone, laptop and tablet will engage and distract. It does work. But it has a cost like everything else. First of all it costs money. You have to buy these things and then you often need to buy content. But the deeper and more enduring cost is your children’s growing dependence on technology to keep their attention. They will grow to desire the immediacy and high level of sensation that technology offers.
The “use technology as a tool” maxim doesn’t really apply with small children. Their sense of what is “real” is not fully developed yet and they depend on the authority around them for instruction. When this environment includes cartoons, computer games and interactive websites – the line between real and pretend becomes blurred. This is a vulnerable place for young children and conscious parents struggle to control the content that their children are exposed to. They sift and surf looking for recommendations and reviews. It is exhausting and seldom worth it.
But another alternative is right under their noses. Storytelling!
Tell them a story. Make one up on the spot. It is convenient. It is portable. It is effective and holds immense variety. Parents have complete control over content and it is FREE! Well almost free. You do need to take the time to tell the story. But the payback is huge. Your children will be dazzled by you, you will offer them some content that is important to you and you might learn a little about yourself or your child in the process. Plus, in my experience, I am filled with rejuvenating energy. Win win.
And finally, your children develop a more powerful and enduring attention. Rather than having the content spoon fed to them in snappy, rapidly changing images and sounds – they can create their own images and drama inwardly. They can be present to the moment and literally attend.
Attention is the first of the four tenets of intuitive storytelling. Attention, Affection, Approach and Allowance – each equally important and powerful when telling a story out of the present moment.
To attend is to be there. When you attend an event, you show up. You are really there – and to have attention is to be fully present. We want our children to have full attention. We want their attention spans to be wide. It is a word that comes up all the time in schools. Attention is often graded and evaluated. And many children are “diagnosed” with a deficiency in Attention. ADD continues to be on the rise in many schools and mediating this “condition” continues to be the focus of many school professionals.
I think it goes without saying, that we value healthy attentions.
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.