We’ve always known that stories are versatile and can help us understand a whole range of things, but it was through our work with early years practitioners that it became apparent that stories would be a great way to help practitioners to identify if there were safeguarding issues and to help them assess whether they might need to raise a concern sheet.
We all have a role to play in safeguarding, it’s not just a job for the safeguarding practitioners in your school or setting. But what does it cover? Safeguarding covers a wide and varied range of things from washing hands to the more serious physical or emotional abuse, or it could be giving support to help a child develop emotionally.
So why use stories?
A story can help you gain entry to a child’s inner world because children will naturally use play and stories to help them work through stressful situations or to help them solve problems. It’s their coping strategy and as children are natural storytellers it’s an easy way for them to communicate.
So when children are playing and telling stories, watch how they interact with others and listen to the stories they make up.
What is our role?
One of our most important roles is to listen to them and that’s exactly what the children want us to do. They want our attention but they are allowing you to enter their world so treat it carefully! It’s also a great opportunity to be able to respond to their anxiety or fears and using stories in the right way can really help you to do this.
What are the signs to look for?
Children often struggle to deal with their emotions because they haven’t got the emotional maturity to analyse their feelings and put them into context. So you might see them using aggressive behaviour or bullying, they may be hyperactive or be in a regular state of fear/anxiety or unhappiness. They may have eating problems or learning difficulties. These are all signs to watch for.
So how can you help?
Use their language, they will naturally use metaphor and images so you should too. Avoid using direct questions as the children will have limited vocabulary and may find expressing themselves difficult. Imagine yourself in their world or their story but don’t interrupt it and make sure you show appropriate interest. Don’t assume you know what something mean – be certain and use open-ended questions for example who, what, where, when although try to avoid ‘why’ as sometimes it just is!
What shouldn’t you do?
Don’t tell children what they are feeling is wrong or offer uninterested responses as they may feel embarrassed or ashamed. Avoid making judgments or taking over what they are saying, and don’t make a judgement from just one story, put it together with other things as you might just have a natural storyteller on your hands.
5 ways to use stories in safeguarding
If you’ve got a child in mind, use props or pictures or maybe small toys and natural objects that would be relevant. Why not use a storytelling jacket? Take a jacket and fill the pockets with different things and get the child to weave these things into a story; listen to the story and see what they make up.
2. Role play
Pre-schoolers, in particular, will often take roles which reflect everyday experiences and will often act out exchanges between themselves and family members so, when they venture into their fantasy world, listen to them. Also, watch how they play with dolls and teddies.
You can also use role play to help a child overcome a problem, e.g. to help prepare them for big school or moving house.
3. Use feelings and emotions cards
These cards have a picture of a scene on one side and prompts and questions you can use on the back. They are a great way to start a discussion and something that early years practitioners have found useful.
4. Creative storytelling
This is where you get the children to make up puppets of the characters of a story or something linked to the story and getting them to interact with the story. This is useful in a number of ways:-
· You can watch how they interact with others.
· Listen to the stories that the children tell with their puppets – are they mimicking behaviours they’ve seen elsewhere?
· Talk to them about the story they are acting out with you and ask them relevant questions. Children will often open up when they’re using a puppet because it’s not about them.
5. Use stories and fairytales
Identify what’s happening in the story and talk about it. Listen closely to what they tell you in their responses. Stories are rich in metaphor and are a great way for children to learn right from wrong, listen to how they interpret the story.
E.g. Cinderella – there are a number of issues covered in this story from bullying, favouritism between siblings, no good comes from being horrible to even physical and emotional abuse.
So, as you can see, stories are a really useful and a powerful way of helping you to identify if there’s a problem with a child in your setting and whether they need some extra support.
About the author
Tonya Meers is the Chief Storyteller at Little Creative Days. Tonya believes that stories are the most versatile and powerful educational tool you can use and there isn’t anything that you can’t teach through a story.
She is co-author of the multi-award winning Pojo series of educational creative storytelling kits which have won awards for their promotion of communication and language skills for early years and primary school aged children.
In addition, she and her sister/business partner also deliver training and workshops for early years practitioners, local authorities and primary schools. They offer a range of interactive workshops to encourage, engage and enable children to develop a love of literacy.