As you have probably noticed, here at KITS, we love books! We know that reading books is so important to child development. When a child really relates to the central character and their experiences, the learning impact of the book can last a lifetime.
One way that stories can have a big impact on kids is when they really speak to the child’s own situation. And stories can be super useful in helping kids to learn to deal with situations that they might have trouble with. That’s the idea behind social stories. These stories allow children to process and think about situations that they may encounter often where their natural inclination is to react in a way that does not benefit them in the long run. For example, grabbing toys from other children, not knowing how to make friends or ask to play with another child, handling big feelings in not so helpful ways, feeling anxious about life changes or new people, and many other situations specific to each child. Reading simple stories about these situations, and seeing themselves in the stories allows children to “practice” hearing and seeing different ways they can respond or cope that will help them handle these situations more successfully.
However, finding a book that has a protagonist that looks like us, or has similar experiences can be challenging. If you are a parent or educator who uses books to help children learn or cope with their experiences, consider writing a social story with your child that stars: them! Social stories are short, simple stories your child can see themselves in. So use their picture, and pictures of the environment or people, or draw pictures to illustrate the stories. They can even help you with the illustrations for a fun activity!
Writing a social story
Start with a situation that you know your child has encountered, or might struggle with in the future. Some ideas might be: new routines like starting school, or changing babysitters, or social situations like playing well with others, or understanding that others have different perspectives than we do, or handling big feelings such as disappointment.
Describe the situation using simple wording, your child’s name, and using positive, encouraging language. This might include what the environment is, who is in the environment, and what might be happening. For example, “This is Sam. Sam is starting kindergarten soon. When he goes to school he will meet a new teacher. He will also get to meet lots of new friends at school. At school Sam will get to play games, sing songs, and learn new things from his teacher.”
Stick to only a few TO DOs for your child, and use language that sends the message that your child is capable and will be successful. It is helpful to normalize common situations that may be frustrating, such as meeting other kids who do not want to share or play together. Also, clearly state what your child can do to handle these situations successfully. For example, “When I want to play with the toy someone else is playing with, I will use my words to ask, “can I play with that?” Sometimes kids at school will say “no”. It’s ok for kids to say no! Sam is a big kid and when he feels a big emotion he will use his coping skills. Sam will take 5 deep breaths and find something else to do.” This will build your child’s confidence about their ability to be successful in the real-world situation.
Remember that the idea behind these stories is to help children learn about and become more comfortable with new situations or skills in a safe, low stimulation environment, so that they will be more likely to draw on these skills from the story when they are in the real situation. And they get to see themselves as the star of a story in which they are successful at handling a situation that may be really hard for them in real-life! What a great confidence booster! So read the social story often, discuss it with your child, and have them practice saying or doing the skill outside the situation. They may still need coaching in real time, so be patient and offer support and encouragement. But most of all, enjoy reading your child’s very own story with them!