Entertaining Them

Telling a story

My eldest son was sitting stiffly in the dentist’s chair looking a little pale.  The hygienist had just ticked through what was about to unfold, and my boy wanted no part of it.  He wished to be brave, however, and he locked his eyes on me and asked, “Can you tell me a story?”

Within that question were several requests:  “Can you help me relax?” “Can you help me be brave?” “Can you distract me for a moment?” “Can you explain why this is happening?”  Of course I wanted to help him, and to offer the perfect cocktail of therapy, empathy and entertainment that would strengthen and relax him through the impending procedure.

But I had to tell it immediately – and in that moment, I had nothing.

So what to do?

What to do when you have two rambunctious kids in the backseat and another 20 minutes until you arrive?

What to do when you are staying the night in a new place, and your agitated daughter needs something to help her settle to sleep?

What to do when the plane hits some turbulence and your son starts to worry?

Well, we’ve all experienced the explosive moment when an idea comes. Boom! It can be a quiet epiphany or an earthshattering revelation, but it always carries a pop of wonder and marvel. It feels magic – like a kind of grace. Like the impossible moment when a firework explodes above: how can that be?

This marvel, wonder and indeed grace, is the stuff of storytelling. And we can all do it. Truly, it is a part of being a person – we tell stories all day. Its just we seldom realize it and intentionally harness the skill for our (and our children’s) benefit.

So – when in doubt – tell them a story. Make one up on the spot. It is convenient. It is portable. It is effective and holds immense variety. Parents have complete control over content and the payback is huge.  Your children will be dazzled by you, you will offer them some content that is important to you and you might learn a little about yourself or your child in the process. Plus, in my experience, I am filled with rejuvenating energy. Win win.

And finally, your children develop a more powerful and enduring attention. Rather than having the content spoon-fed to them in snappy, rapidly changing images and sounds – they can create their own images and drama inwardly. They can be present to the moment and literally attend.

Attention is the first of the four tenets of intuitive storytelling. Attention, Affection, Approach and Allowance – each equally important and powerful when telling a story out of the present moment.

To attend is to be there. When you attend an event, you show up. You are really there – and to have attention is to be fully present. We want our children to have full attention. We want their attention spans to be wide. It is a word that comes up all the time in schools. Attention is often graded and evaluated.  And many children are “diagnosed” with a deficiency in Attention. ADHD continues to be on the rise in many schools and mediating this “condition” continues to be the focus of many school professionals. We value healthy attentions.

But how are we modeling this for our children? How is our attention? Do we fully attend? Is our attention span wide and full and focused – or are we also deficient in our attention? How often have we not heard our own child because we were checking email? How often have we blanked on someone’s name because we never heard it in the first place? How often have we driven home without remembering how we got there? Attention. If we really value it in our children, then it makes sense to work on our own.

So once again – storytelling to the rescue!

Attention is the starting place of every intuitive story. In order to make up a story on the spot, we need to start. We need a seed. We need a launching pad. We need the little cannon that sends the fireworks into the sky. This is attention. Pay attention. Look around. Listen. Smell the air. Taste your food. Feel your feet in your shoes. Be there. Then the magic happens.

When you are about to tell a story and you open yourself to all around you, you will be amazed at what you notice.

You will see things that you never noticed are there. You will hear things that surprise you. You will taste a faint hint of something that reminds you of a distant place long ago. Images will come to you and suddenly out of your mouth will come:

“Once upon a time, there was a bee who hated the taste of honey…” or “There was once a little girl who longed to be as small as an ant…” or “Long ago and far away there was a gentle woodsman who was looking for his mother…”

And then the fun begins.  Boom boom boom!! The story gets told before you – with no clear sense of where it is going or what is going to happen. It feels like someone else is telling the story and you are listening along with your children. But then every now and then the story comes to an impasse. There is a crossroads in the story that stops the flow. It always happens – even if only for a moment. Attention can come to the rescue once again.

When you don’t know where to take the story and you are seeming a little lost, then look around. Listen. Smell. Notice everything until something in particular takes your attention. A butterfly. A green mailbox. The sound of mariachi music. The smell of exhaust. You notice and an image comes. And it is the perfect solution to the impasse. Then you continue.

This first tenet of intuitive storytelling will take you amazing places. When joined with the other three tenets (Affection, Approach and Allowance) they will connect you deeply with your child and the All That Is to deliver a powerful, moving and entertaining story you will always remember.

Look for more Articles in the future that examine Affection, Approach and Allowance – but most importantly, tell stories. Just do it. And enjoy the marvelous fireworks you create along with your children.

David Sewell McCann, whose voice is heard in living rooms and carpools around the world, has been telling stories for over 25 years. As a seasoned elementary school teacher, he honed his pedagogical storytelling into an effective teaching tool for everything from social inclusion to long division. Out of his experience as a Waldorf class teacher and a parent to two young boys, he has developed a method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through the website, www.sparklestories.com – co-run with his wife Lisabeth. David believes that storytelling is the most powerful and underused parenting helper available and has made it his personal mission to return storytelling to every home and community. “Storytelling works” he says,”It is entertaining, energy giving, soothing, therapeutic and anyone can do it!”  

If you’d like to try Sparkle Stories, David and Lisabeth are giving our readers a nice intro offer: $1 for the first month of subscription. Choose from one of our Sparkle Stories Packages, and the magic discount code is: SPARKLERS.


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Comments (2)


  1. Posted by: Deb

    David — that was a lovely description of the magic of true, spontaneous storytelling. This happens on our planet a lot, from the time our 8-year-old was very tiny. There are now “favourite stories” (demanding, because you need to remember what it was you came up with… although this can create a nice dialogue with your child too!), and story cycles, involving recurring characters and worlds. My favourite variation, though, is “sing me a song” (which I get in the car a lot, on long roadtrips)… as in “sing me a song about a dinosaur”; “sing me a song about a dinosaur and a mouse and they go to Japan”; “sing me a song about…” and so it goes, often escalating to hilarious (and often tuneless) heights of complexity. The key here is to not worry about a0whether or not you’re making a fool of yourself, and b) whether or not you can sing. Not important. My little guy looooves this game…

  2. Posted by: David Sewell McCann

    I love the “sing me a song” idea – what fun! We will certainly try it. Do you mind if I spread it to our subscribers? They are always looking for fun, low-tech ways of enjoying car rides.
    Thank you!

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