The world is an infinitely complex place with infinitely complex people and social structures. Learning how to build relationships with others, self-discovery, dealing with problems and trauma, experiencing pain and grief, succeeding in careers or hobbies, raising families, the list of complex issues goes on and on.
All of this is experienced while living in a world which changes so quickly and sometimes unpredictably. 2020 was bombarded with natural disasters, political unrest around the world and a virus pandemic that leaves the governments in charge unprepared and clueless on the best thing to do.
This is challenging enough for adults. Now think of a small child of 5 years old trying to navigate his way through this life, experiencing most things for the first time. For a young brain that is still developing, trying to understand these complex issues within a life of infinite variables would be impossible if looked at completely literally.
For example, have you ever struggled to get your toddler to genuinely apologize for snatching a toy or hurting her sibling, only to have her refuse completely, run off in tears or throw a tantrum?
Well done to you if not, but the probability is that every parent has faced a similar situation while trying to discipline their child. This is no surprise. Take a moment to understand the process the brain needs to go through just to be able to make a genuine apology.
First, the part of the brain that needs to be engaged is the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. There’s a part of the brain that plays an important role in this, called the right temporalparietal junction. This works with the prefrontal cortex and allows the brain to develop empathy.
Second, you need the child to look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. Get her to hypothesise about how she thinks she would feel if that same thing was done to her. Take into consideration the complex personality of the other person – In other words, to put herself in the other person\’s shoes. Then understanding all of that, she needs to feel genuine regret and guilt over snatching the toy, wishing that she had never done it, and hope that by uttering the words “I\’m sorry” might in some way make up for the hurt she has caused.
Now take into consideration that the brain doesn’t stop developing until around 25 years of age and it’s no wonder that a young child is going to have trouble understanding this concept.
This is where stories help children to understand these issues more clearly. Stories stay in our memory and make us feel things. Listen to any motivational speaker and they will likely begin and end on a story with a very specific ‘call to action’ to motivate you to get up and do something. You may forget all the bits in between, but the story they tell along with the action they want you to do will stay with you.
We could find a story online or buy a book which has a story teaching these various lessons, there is a lot of material out there. Wouldn’t it be great though if you could create your own story, specific to your children and your own situation that you could tell them, and then see that it actually works!
This is what we will start to look at in the next article…