How did Annie Stories begin?
They began quite a few years ago when my daughter, Amantha, was about to start nursery school. At that time, Amantha was quite shy and nervous at the thought of being thrown into this new and strange environment. My husband and I had said all the usual things that parents say on these occasions – that nursery school would be fun, that the children would play with her, that the teacher would look after her, but it was obvious that it was all gliding in one ear and out the other without being processed in between.
It was then that I hit on the idea of telling her a story about Annie, a little girl just like her who was also worried about going to nursery school but who ended up coping very well and enjoying it.
Amantha was riveted. She asked for the story time and time again, and when in fact the time came to go to nursery school, she coped very well, just as Annie had done. From then on, whenever she was worried by something, she would spontaneously ask me for an Annie Story.
I was impressed by how much she was helped by the Annie Stories and began to teach other parents how to tell them to their children when they had problems. The feedback was unanimously positive, the parents were amazed and excited to discover how well the stories worked, how easy they were to tell and how much the children loved them.
Are children’s fears and emotions the same as adult fears and emotions?
Some children’s fears are the same as adults’ fears in that, for instance, both adults and children can fear being lost in a strange city. Adults, however, generally have a wider range of coping strategies available to them than do children. They can buy a map and study it, they can hire a guide, or they can catch a cab, just to name a few. Also, adults tend to have a more realistic view of their fears. They know, for example, that although it is frustrating to be lost in a city, it is not life-threatening. Children could experience this fear in a much more intense and overwhelming way because they can’t put it into perspective and they don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with it.
Some children’s fears of course are different from adults’ – the average adult doesn’t fear finding witches under the bed, for instance!
Children’s emotions are generally the same as adults’, that is, they are the usual human emotions of love, hate, fear, etc. Children’s emotions however, may seem difficult to understand for the adult because children experience the world in a different way. For instance, a child may become inordinately upset about a balloon that is losing its air and slowly floating to the ground. To the adult, this may seem to be an inexplicable emotion. However, it may be that the child thinks that the balloon is alive and is upset because it seems sick. Or again, a family member may be sick and the child may be transferring their distress over the illness onto the ‘sick’ balloon.
What does it mean when your child asks to hear the same story again and again?
This usually means that the story is being helpful. Children take time to assimilate new ideas. They need to mull things over, hear the story again, put some more pieces together in their minds, hear the story again, and so on.
Do children realise that “Annie” is really them?
Yes, they are often aware that you are telling them a story about themselves. Usually, they will dip in and out of that awareness. When the subject matter gets too threatening, for instance, they can see it as ‘just a story’. This keeps their anxiety level down and enables them to listen and learn.
What about parents who are not good at telling stories? Will Annie Stories still work?
Yes, it will. If you feel you aren’t good at telling stories, you might prefer to read the Annie Stories straight from the page and just change the names as you go along. As you get familiar with the story, you can tell it without needing to read it.
After a while, you will begin to get more and more comfortable with your own storytelling and more confident to make up your own variations.
If the content matter of the story makes you anxious or upset, you could ask another adult your child is comfortable with to read it to them.
Why use stories?
A child’s natural way of learning about the world is through play and fantasy. Storytelling lets them learn in the way which is easiest, most enjoyable and most natural to them. Children switch off at lectures and switch on at story-time.
What makes Annie Stories different from other stories?
Annie stories are different because they are tailored to your child’s individual needs and situations. Furthermore, they are tailored and told by the person who knows your child best – you!
For children whose problems seem particularly severe or do not resolve with time, consultation with a therapist is advisable. Severe or sustained periods of depression, withdrawal or aggressive acting-out may also be an indication that professional help is needed. It is also advisable to have your child checked out by a paediatrician or physician. Many of the symptoms of anxiety such as dizziness, headaches and stomach aches may also be the symptoms of physical illness too.