Mama, will you tell me a dinosaur story?
I discovered this magical parenting tip (and I mean magical!) because, like most of you, I don’t have more than two hands to help my kids at any given moment.
Darcy, my 2-year-old daughter, and I always read before nap time and bedtime. Sometimes we read one book, sometimes 10. We like to read. A lot. After I had my second baby girl, Laney, our routine changed a bit. I often needed to breastfeed during our precious reading time, which was a challenge in and of itself.
Holding a book, turning the pages, cradling the baby, and wrapping an arm around my toddler wasn’t always possible. So, sometimes I improvised by telling stories that I made up on the spot, and my 2-year-old loved it. She’s particularly enchanted with the characters Darcy Dinosaur and Laney Dinosaur. They get themselves into all kinds of trouble, go on wild adventures, and learn some important lessons, too.
What I didn’t expect was that this new strategy of storytelling—putting my kids into their own stories—has been a parenting game changer, especially in the area of emotional intelligence. I learned this trick while reading The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. The book suggests this strategy to help your little one process big emotions and make sense of difficult situations: “Name It to Tame It: Corral raging right-brain behavior through left-brain storytelling, appealing to the left brain’s affinity for words and reasoning to calm emotional storms and bodily tension.” Here’s how this seemingly simple hack has helped my parenting:
It Helps My Child Process Her Big Emotions
This summer, a tornado warning took us by surprise in the middle of the night. My family was startled awake by the shrilling tornado alert blasting on our phones. I scooped up my frightened toddler and sleepy baby and flew downstairs to the basement. While my husband investigated the severity of our situation (the tornado was right down the road!), I held my daughters close and reassured them that everything was going to be OK. This was Darcy’s first tornado experience, and she was very confused but so brave! I told Darcy all about tornados and explained that we were safe because we were in the basement.
Finally, when the coast was clear and we were all tucked in bed and listening to the distant thunder, she asked for a dinosaur story about a storm. That’s when storytime took on a whole new meaning! I used my story to talk about storms again and to reiterate that mama and dada will always keep Darcy Dinosaur and Laney Dinosaur safe.
Storytelling Strengthens Connections in Her Growing Brain
From that night on, I have used our “Dinosaur Stories” to connect or “integrate” different parts of Darcy’s brain as she processes new scenarios. As Siegel and Bryson wrote, “Just as with the healthy functioning of the body, your brain can’t perform at its best unless its different parts work together in a coordinated and balanced way. That’s what integration does: It coordinates and balances the separate regions of the brain that it links together”.
Essentially, I am connecting her emotions to reason and logic. I know she’s still processing that night because she always requests a story about a storm. Sometimes she even tells it herself! The more we talk about it, the less it will scare her.
This brilliant strategy works for other, less traumatic experiences as well! Darcy recently had trouble sharing her toys with some new friends, and guess what? So did Darcy Dinosaur! Darcy misses Dada when he goes to work and so does Darcy Dinosaur.
Not every story has a big life lesson, but they are always a way for me to connect and communicate with Darcy in a fun way that she understands. Her growing brain, her confidence, and her wild imagination are hungry for relatable, problem-solving heroes. Darcy Dinosaur makes mistakes, learns from them, and believes in herself!
Make your children the heroes of their very own story, and watch their eyes light up when you begin to tell it. You might also discover you’re much more creative than you thought!