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February 1, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How to make your own social stories in 6 easy steps

1. Choose a single goal

Each story should have only 1 focus.  This may be a single event, a certain behaviour or situation. Be clear in your own mind about the point of your story.

2. Keep it short

Short sentences ensure clarity. Short stories, especially around tricky issues, make it easier to keep children engaged. Once you’ve made your point, the story is done. You can spend time discussing the issue after you’ve finished the story, but don’t make the story itself too laborious.

3. Add colour with detail

Small details that resonate with your child will keep your story lively and engaging. They can also add humour. For example, if your child’s teacher has a friendly quirk – a big smile, towering height, heavy eyeliner or a past life as an engineer – include this in your story. When I introduced my son to his teachers in story form, I wrote “Mr Squiggle is the art teacher. He is good at building tall sculptures as he used to be an engineer.”

4. Ensure accuracy

This is essential! Accuracy builds trust and ensures you stay on topic.  No doubt your child will pull you up on incorrect details – but this will derail the story. Worse, if your story is incorrect, you risk losing your child’s confidence. 

5. Introduce emotions

But, never state how your child or others will feel. You might say “some kids feel nervous when”… Or “mum thinks my teacher will be happy if…”.  Acknowledging tricky feelings is important, but you cant assume anything! Leave a lot of wriggle room eg  “I might have some jiggly feelings..”

6. Write from the first person

Eg My name is [child’s name]. I am 4 years old .

7. Don’t give false reassurance

You cant promise a teacher is kind if you have never met them or that a party will be fun. Its more honest to say – “mum thinks the teacher is really kind” or “Mum has heard that the teacher is really kind” or even “mum and I hope the teacher will be really kind”

February 1, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

How social stories help children

Explaining the world – and its rules – to my boys

I have two delightful little boys, each with very different ways of seeing and understanding the world. My curious and clever 5 year old has always been a little anxious. Although he has no issue leaping from boulders or riding his bike down the stairs, he needs extra time and assistance to prepare for everyday events and changes to his routine.

As he grew from an adventurous toddler to a fact-loving kinder kid, I noticed he often seemed unaware of the unspoken rules and expectations in social and educational situations. This resulted in accidentally upsetting his friends or being chastised by his teachers (and us, his parents). These situations would upset him, as he didn’t understand what had gone wrong and why the people around him were suddenly cross.

I was advised to help my son by giving him stories to explain what was expected in certain situations, as well as all the “rules” of interaction we adults take for granted. Such stories are often called “Social Stories”. Social stories are a learning tool originally designed to help with clear exchanges of communication between parents and children with autism. These stories describe a context, skill, achievement or idea in a clear and direct way, making it easy for children to grasp. Conveying such information in the form of a story can be useful for all young children. Stories can be used to teach coping and social skills, and help guide behaviour.

The term “Social Story” was coined by American educator Carol Gray (carolgraysocialstories.com). At the time, Grey was teaching students with autism and began writing stories to share information she could see they were missing. Social Stories as defined by Gray must meet ten defining characteristics (The Social Story Criteria). These stories persist as they have proven to be helpful for many children, especially those with autism or learning disorders. However, when I attempted to introduce Gray’s Social Stories to my child they did not resonate. He found the form overly didactic and boring.  As a curious and sensitive child, he found them too serious and I could not hold his interest when we tried to read them together.

How I created calm, confident kids

I began searching online and in libraries for appropriate explanatory stories for my two very different boys. However, I often found existing templates drab and uninspiring, or not specific enough. Wanting to engage my boys I began to create my own stories to prepare them for everyday situations, they used many of Gray’s guidelines (short sentences, simple language, one concept at a time) but were more lighthearted. I wanted to create something that was both informative and fun. Stories ranged from simple tasks like Where I put my Bag at Kinder to harder situations like I Have a Babysitter Tonight. I would take pictures of my boys as the “main characters” as well as using pictures of their own classrooms, bedrooms, and babysitters which became the story illustrations. Sometimes we printed these stories out, creating books we could return to, other times it was enough to simply show them the story on my computer.

Integrating these stories into our everyday routine was a simple way to prepare both my children for unusual or potentially challenging situations. When these moments arrived, my kids knew what was happening and why. Although they were still upset at times, we no longer had to negotiate meltdowns or tantrums because of unexpected challenges. The greatest achievement of these stories was that they were also fun! The boys loved seeing themselves as the main characters in each story. They were so proud to be the central heroes, they wanted to show these books to their grandparents, babysitters and even kinder teachers!

How this changed our family life.

Both my boys immediately responded to the stories. While I had initially set out to find a way to help manage my eldest’s anxiety, my youngest (aged three) also thrived off the clear explanations and instructions the stories provided. As he has always been a remarkably confident and social little person, I hadn’t realised the benefit they would provide. Stories helped him make a smooth transition to kindergarten, as well as helping enormously with everyday events like my husband and I leaving for work or our family having a meal at a café or restaurant. I realised that arming both my kids with clear descriptions of what was going to happen and their role in each situation resulted in calmer, more confident, and even happier boys.

Courageous Kids is the result of my own journey into creating “social” stories. These stories were so helpful for my children, friends started requesting copies. I began sharing my templates with family and friends.

The conversations I had with fellow parents and carers made me realise that others could benefit from the research and practice I had in creating these stories and inspired me to try to share my stories more widely. I cannot overstate how helpful this method has been for my children and I encourage you try it with your own. You can read my blog on how to create your own social stories here (LINK). Or, if you are lacking time or feeling stuck, you can use my tried and tested stories in the app. All of the stories available on Courageous Kids have been reviewed by a leading child psychiatrist.  The stories are fully customisable and you can upload your own photos or use our illustrations.  

Rather than having to start from scratch like I did, we give you the head start to begin creating stories to help your children be more self-assured, relaxed and excited about new events and milestones. My hope is that the resources provided by Courageous Kids will benefit other families in the way they have mine.

January 30, 2021 by Dr Kathryn Hackman 0 Comments

6 steps to prepare your child for school

The prospect of starting school can be exciting, but also nerve-wracking and sometimes scary for children. Here are six simple steps to take the stress out of this milestone and help your child feel comfortable and prepared when beginning this new chapter.

1.   Start a Countdown

Children often dont have a clear concept of time. They may know that school is starting soon” but be unsure of what that means practically and how long they have to prepare. Creating a countdown can help your child understand that their routine will be changing and that school is coming up. It’s a good idea to do this on a calendar so you can show them exactly how many weeks until school starts. Every Monday, go to the calendar to show them “five weeks to school…”, “four weeks to school…”, “3 weeks to school…”, “2 weeks to school… “1 week to school”!

When you are down to the last week before school starts, count down the days 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. A weekly, then daily reminder is plenty. Of course, if your child brings up the topic themselves then follow their lead.

Starting school is exciting, so make sure you reflect this in your tone of voice when you go to the calendar to do your countdowns.

2. Visit Visit Visit

Even if your child has siblings or friends already at their school, its still a new environment, likely to be larger and more intimidating than childcare or kindergarten.

Take your child to see their new school several times over the school holidays. On the first visit, just go up to the gate where they will enter on their first morning. If possible, peep through the gate and point out where their classroom will be. Point out what you can see, for example Oh, there’s your playground!” or Ah, there are the water fountains”.

On the second visit walk the perimeter of the school. It’s important that your child starts to get their bearings around school. Talk to your child about the direction of your house and other key landmarks in relation to their school. This will help them feel safe and secure, knowing that familiar environments are not far away. This process gently shows children that the new school is a part of their world.

On another visit, walk from the front gate of the school to the nearest café or shopping strip. Get a drink or a snack together (takeaway if need be) and tell your child that this is where you will come for a coffee after you drop them off at school on the first day. If you will never have time for this don’t make it up! Instead, tell them that this is where lots of the school mums and dads go for a coffee after they drop their kids at school. This reassures children that after school drop off parents don’t vanish, they stay nearby and are still thinking about their kids.

3. School is not an island

School must not seem like a distant island, far from home. If their school is in a new suburb or unfamiliar area children may feel isolated from their surroundings. You can help assuage this fear by showing your child the route from their house to school several times. This is best done by foot, scooter or bike. If you have to go by car, make sure you point out all the landmarks along the way and teach your child the major street names.

Every time you drive past the school or are in the vicinity, point out where it is and give it a wave “hello” and “goodbye”.  You could say Hi School!” when you are approaching, and Bye School!” as you go past. Talk about how far school is from home, emphasising its proximity to familiar landmarks. This will cement their school as a new and exciting part of their world.

You can also discuss with your child how far school is in minutes by car” and how long it will take them to get to and from school by your most common mode of transport (bike, scooter, walking).

All this will allow your child to locate their school in relation to other familiar places, and will help them understand that they are still connected to you and to their familiar, safe, environments.

4. Involve your child in getting the things they need

School is a whole new beginning. This means there is a great opportunity to foster excitement and joy!

Let your child choose their school lunch box and water bottle. These are exciting items, something special that is just for them. Involve your child when you label these items with their name. Your child could tell you where they want you to write their name, and how. Ask them whether they want an extra symbol next to their name to help them recognise what is theirs. For example, you could draw a little star, a flower, a ladybird or whatever will be fun for them. Offer what you can manage and let your child choose. This allows your child to feel a sense of pride and ownership.

Children with an older sibling or cousin that they look up to may now identify with them more and feel they share a common bond. Those with younger siblings who are not yet at school, may enjoy doing these special school ready” jobs and feel excited, responsible and proud. These simple activities give children agency as they prepare for school and can help them to feel proud of themselves for starting something new.

5. Buy and wear your school shoes early

The last thing you or your child wants for their first day of school is to be uncomfortable or distressed because of new shoes pinching and rubbing. There are so many new things about starting school, any part of the process that can be made familiar will help.

Take your child to shop for shoes and let your child tell the shop assistant why they need these new shoes. Give your child as many opportunities as possible to look forward to starting school and talk about it with others.

Do not save these shoes for day one of school! Wear them for short periods at home and check for blisters! You do not want any source of discomfort on your child’s first days of school. Make sure the shoes are truly comfy and worn in a bit.  It may seem a bit mad to be wearing heavy black school shoes in the middle of summer but even if you try for one or two hours a day inside the house, it is a good start.

6. Talk to your child about what happens at school

Talking to your child about what happens at school, who their teachers will be and what drop off will be like will create familiarity and confidence. Having these conversations early, and with visual cues is also a great way to create space for your children to share their concerns.

The Courageous Kids app offers a carefully crafted set of stories about starting school. These can be further personalised for your child, as the app allows you to upload your own photos (of your child’s teachers, the school environment, their classroom, etc). When adults start a new job they get an orientation and welcome pack, why shouldn’t our children get the same? Printing out the Courageous Kids stories about starting school and reading one book every few days is your childs welcome pack to school. Starting school is an important, exciting but sometimes daunting milestone. This is an easy and fun way to share their excitement and soothe their fears.

And finally, congratulations Mums and Dads for getting to this very exciting milestone!

Download the Courageous Kids app today on the Apple Store or Google Play.