National Storytelling Week

AZ Behaviour Tales

Storyteller Susan Perrow’s book, An A-Z Collection of Behaviour Tales is a collection of 42 stories that use animal tales to gently steer children through behavioural issues. For National Storytelling Week we are re-sharing an article for Green Parent magazine about storytelling’s potential for nurturing positive values.

As a story consultant, I write stories for all ages that are shared in many different ways, from email to Skype to face-to-face reading or telling. My therapeutic story approach arose out of experience – when my three sons were very young, I discovered that stories were like ‘lights’ in the night – encouraging them to be more co-operative and helpful – and as a teacher, I discovered that using story medicine in the classroom helped with anxious and aggressive behaviours. ‘Story medicine’ is of course not the only strategy for addressing challenging behaviour, but it is often very effective – story is the natural language of childhood!

Of the stories in my new book, Zestless Zebra is especially meaningful to me. I was on a family camping holiday and feeling unusually ‘zestless’. So my son and grand-daughter encouraged me to come to the forest and play hide and seek – and by the time the game had finished I was full of energy – this inspired the story.

Parents and teachers should read or tell one of the stories to the child or children and then let it rest. Don’t try to analyse the story; this risks taking away some of its potential healing or helping powers. Enjoyment is a vital part of therapeutic storytelling – I can’t imagine that a child would learn anything much from a story that they didn’t enjoy.

Sometimes a child may refer to one or all of the characters in the story. I suggest listening to what they say, then letting them lead the conversation. A six-year-old boy who had been read my stories (including Cranky Cockatoo) said to me, on opening his front door, “I used to be a cranky cockatoo but now I’m friendly.” “That’s lucky for me,” I laughed. “It must be safe to come inside!” I consciously didn’t say anything more. I certainly didn’t use this as a chance to jump in and moralise. Adults and children can also adapt or extend the stories through drama, puppetry, art and crafts, song and rhyme and games – there’s a chapter dedicated to ideas in the book.


Susan’s storytelling tips

  1. Remind yourself that the experience of storytelling is a ‘sharing’ rather than a ‘performance’. This understanding can minimise the tension you may feel about sharing a story for the first time… the experience should be enjoyable for both you and your listeners. 
  2. Imagine yourself as part of the ‘world-wide-story-web’, keeping the special stories that you find alive through telling them to others. This imagination can help remind you that you are not alone in your telling, but one of millions of people around the world who are sharing stories with each other.
  3. Being well prepared will also help you feel relaxed. Unless you have the rare quality of being a natural storyteller, this preparation may be hard work. But once you really ‘know’ a story well, it lives in your resource kit forever.
  4. It is a wonderful gift for a child to have a parent make up stories for them. Be careful not to ‘moralise’ or use what I call ‘teacher talk’ – let the imaginative journey in the story do the work! 
  5. When trying to make up your own stories, start with simple ones – you will be surprised how interested your child is in memory stories from your childhood.
  6. Use a set of story cards with random story motives (King, feather, key, grandmother, river, bear, rabbit, etc). I have played this game with my grandchildren – they also love to have a turn.

This article appeared in Issue 82 of The Green Parent magazine.