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4 Recommendations for Supporting Kids Who Struggle with Storytelling and Receiving Feedback

Have you ever met a child who seems to demonstrate any (or all) of these characteristics?

"wild imagination"

"gives lots of details, but they aren't connected and makes no sense"

"gets so frustrated when given feedback"

Then I have some suggestions for you!

*As quick disclaimer: None of these suggestions are child-specific. They are general suggestions that may be helpful for ALL children. However, they have been particularly helpful, in my experience, when working with children who exhibit these characteristics. *Always use your own clinical judgement to determine what is best for a child you are serving.

  1. Make sure the child already has an intact story schema.

  2. Shift the "pressure" or "blame."

  3. Use effective, natural prompts (and add some extra expression).

  4. Help the child to pace and self-monitor.

Make sure the child already has an intact story schema.

Remember, storytelling (and particularly story generation) is a very complex task, which requires careful balance of speech, language and executive functioning skills. The schema, once learned and automatized, helps to reduce the cognitive load of the task and serves as a cognitive anchor (or mental graphic organizer) to help facilitate cohesive, coherent story generation.

If a basic schema isn't well established (or not established at all), it’s worth the investment to make sure the foundation is solid. Expecting a child to tell a cohesive, coherent story without a story schema is like expecting a kid to run a good race without knowing the race route.

Shift the "pressure" or "blame."

What we ask our students to do is generally hard for them. Inevitably, we will have to give feedback. However, sometimes, when we give feedback, the child gets the message that they are doing a bad job. Or perhaps that the reason we are stopping them is their fault… and while this may be true... the resulting frustration or grief can derail your session.

Of course, our intent is not to make the child feel bad or frustrated. But it happens. So...

Shift the “blame.” Tell the child that it's your own brain can’t handle the story. This reduces the pressure on the child and puts the child in the position of helper. Most kids are more than happy to play the role of helper.

"Wow, this is a cool story, but my brain can’t take so much cool at once. It will help my brain if you [insert feedback].

Use effective, natural prompts (and add some extra expression).

Consider the natural responses to good and "bad" storytelling. If someone is telling you a story that is sufficiently detailed and coherent, you are likely going to be engaged. Your body language will show it. You might:

  • lean in

  • maintain a fixed gaze

  • show you're interested by saying

    • uh-huh...

    • seriously!?

    • really!?

    • wow!

    • what happened next??

On the flip-side, if someone is telling a story that is confusing or boring, what is your natural response? You might:

  • start to make a confused face

  • stop the person and express your confusion

If the breakdown isn't repaired you might...

  • shift your gaze and attention to other things

  • disengage completely.

Consider providing this exact feedback, perhaps with added emphasis, to give the child natural, real-time feedback.

Help the child to pace and self-monitor.

Good storytellers are constantly monitoring themselves and their listeners, making changes as needed. The truth is, many of the kids we work with are not self-monitoring at all. Even with visuals (e.g., story grammar icons) in front of them, they might not actively consider how their story (what is coming out of their mouth) aligns with the schema. Or maybe they aren't watching their communication partner's confused face to know they need to make some kind of modification. This lack of awareness often results in speedy and seemingly disorganized pace. Plus the added excitement of telling a story makes it all the more difficult to slowwwww down.

Telling them to slow down probably isn't going to fix the problem. Something I like to do to help them to naturally slow down, without causing frustration (see suggestion 1), is to act as a scribe. I have the child tell the story while I write it down. This requires the child to slow down because I can only write or type so fast. Plus, it takes advantage of suggestion #2 by shifting the "pressure" onto me.

"I can't write fast enough"


"You are giving me too much information."

While acting as a scribe, you may choose to provide a little more support by filling in a graphic organizer rather than just writing or typing on a blank document. Even if you aren't explicitly pointing out the story parts, by nature of you having the visual out, the child will be able to see and reference it.

You might also consider using verbiage like:

This is what I have so far. Does this sound right? Does this make sense?

You can also integrate some sabotage if you feel it's appropriate.

Any of these options can encourage slowing of pace and creates an environment where, typically, kids are more willing to take feedback (because they feel like they are helping you, not you helping them).

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