How to Introduce it – The easiest way is if you want to or have already established, a bed time routine where a story is included. For younger children, you can invite them to sit down with you for a story anytime they appear in a calmer mood. If the child is an adolescent with good enough reading skills, you can even give them the story to read on their own and later ask if they want to draw the pictures together.
How to do it – Write an age appropriate story that is based on how your child arrived in your home or on a difficulty your child is currently experiencing (like being anxious in crowds or scared of the dark). You will be switching out all the people with animals. If your child has a favorite animal or stuffy, make that your child’s character and make your family a different family of animals. If it is a blended family for example, step children, foster or adoptive children, then make each of these people different animals from each other. Set the scene for your story in a home that would be suitable for such animals. If you choose a family of rabbits, for example, they would live in a cozy burrow and maybe your child is a field mouse.
Make the theme very simple for your first story. The new arrival is a different animal that has to live in a home that they are not used to and maybe feel a bit afraid or uncomfortable in that home. The other animals can have some feelings too, maybe they are excited or worried that the new animal will not like them. You can describe how the family of animals prepare for the new arrival, maybe cleaning the home, choosing items they might like (maybe getting it wrong because they are a different animal) or switching rooms so the new animal gets the softest bed etc. (acts of nurturing or at least, good intentions)
You can elaborate on the descriptive elements but keep the plot and themes quite simple for the child’s age. The story can involve the family trying to do something fun and maybe part of it was not so fun for the new child. Then it turned out better than they thought because they found a commonality after all.
Your story definitely doesn’t have to end happily ever after but it should have a hopeful ending. If your child has an issue with any part of the story as you are reading it, or later on. This is a great opportunity to ask them what changes they would like and revise the story together. (This is a story about the child’s experience so try not to get too attached to all your hard work!)
If your child was or is very young, you can leave out a lot of the negative feelings and just emphasize the love and acceptance piece.
The following example story is designed for a child, adopted or fostered at an older age by a heterosexual couple with two biological children. Please apply genders, ages, number of adults and children to represent your own family. Change animals and setting to ones that will most interest your child.
……It was springtime and all the buds were starting to show on the flowers, the birds were singing and happily making their nests…….All this happiness was kind of annoying to little squirrel. She wished the birds would just stop singing and the sun would stop shining so much.
In fact, sometimes it made her so angry that she threw acorns at trees just to make herself feel better. If squirrel admitted it though, she actually felt scared because she was soon moving to a new home and she didn’t know if she would even like it. She had been told that she would be living with a family of birds, which meant that she would have to climb all the way up to the highest tree every day to get to the bird’s nest. She was worried that she would forget which tree the nest was in and then she might have no home at all! She was also scared the birds would fly away and leave her all alone in the nest! Lastly, she was definitely not okay with the thought of eating mushed up worms!
Moving day had arrived! The family of birds were so excited that little squirrel was coming to live with them (forever) Mrs. (or mommy) Bird had been storing some acorns because she had heard that squirrels really liked to eat acorns. Mr. (or daddy) Bird had told brother and sister bird to be very nice to little squirrel because he knew that she might feel a bit sad to start with. Brother and sister bird had squished in together so that there was now lots of extra room in the nest for little squirrel.
It was finally time to move in but by the time old Mrs. owl had shown little squirrel to her new nest, she was nearly in tears.
Everyone was a little nervous but the bird family greeted little squirrel and told her she was most welcome in their home. That night little squirrel had a hard time sleeping, she had liked the acorns Mrs. bird gave her but didn’t want to say thank you and she did have a very soft bed but she didn’t know why brother and sister bird were sleeping so far away from her!
In the morning, Mrs. Bird brought worms for brother and sister bird and more acorns for little squirrel, she asked if little squirrel wanted to try some worms and little squirrel said shyly, ‘maybe later’.
After breakfast brother and sister bird wanted to play hide and seek and little squirrel thought that sounded fun so the three of them set off into the forest. Little squirrel wasn’t sure if the birds knew the same rules she did so they decided to talk about the rules first before starting.
Rule number 1: Once you are hiding in position, no flying or scurrying away! Rule number 2: If you are the seeker, you can’t climb up or fly up to a high tree to get a ‘bird’s eye view’! That’s cheating! The birds thought it was cool that Little squirrel called it a ‘bird’s eye view’ even though she was a squirrel. Rule number 3: Count really loudly!
Once the rules were agreed, the two birds and little squirrel had a great day together, starting with hide and seek and then making up some fun, new games together that none of them had played before.
Little squirrel heard Mr. Bird calling them back to the nest for dinner. Brother bird shyly gave his new sister squirrel a hug and sister bird said maybe Little squirrel could try some worms for her dinner. Little squirrel thought for a minute, ‘hmm, maybe’ and then she saw an acorn fall from a tree and picked it up, ‘but maybe tomorrow’ and they all laughed. The End
Thanks for reading and I hope this was helpful!
Vicky Wallace, Play and Expressive Arts Therapist