With IPT we are working to help children and adults make sense of experiences, or trauma that they couldn’t process at the time. Retelling the story can help calm big emotions. For example, A toddler falls and scrapes an elbow. A kindergartner loses a beloved pet. A fifth grader faces a bully at school. When a child experiences painful, disappointing, or scary moments, it can feel overwhelming, with big emotions and bodily sensations flooding the right brain. When this happens we as parents can help bring the left hemisphere into the picture so that the child can begin to understand what’s happening. One of the best ways to promote this type of whole-brain integration is to help retell the story of the frightening or painful experience.
Bella, for instance, was nine years old when the toilet overflowed when she flushed, and the experience of watching the water rise and pour onto the floor left her unwilling (and practically unable) to flush the toilet afterward. When Bella’s father, Doug, learned about the “name it to tame it” technique, he sat down with his daughter and retold the story of the time the toilet overflowed. He allowed her to tell as much of the story as she could and helped to fill in the details, including the lingering fear she had felt about flushing since that experience. After retelling the story several times, Bella’s fears lessened and eventually went away.
Why was retelling the story so effective?
Essentially, what Doug did was to help his daughter bring her left brain and her right brain together so she could make sense of what happened. When she talked through the moment the water started spilling onto the floor and how she felt worried and afraid, her two hemispheres were working together in an integrated way. She engaged her left brain by putting the details in order and the experience into words, and then brought her right brain in by revisiting the emotions she felt during this experience. In this way, Doug helped his daughter name her fears and emotions so that she could then TAME them.
What kids often need, especially when they experience strong emotions, is to have someone help them use their left brain to make sense of what’s going on and to put things in order. Naming the big emotions helps them so they can deal with them effectively. This is what storytelling does: it allows us to understand ourselves and our world by using both our left and right hemispheres together. To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order using words and logic. The right brain contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions, and personal memories, so we can see the whole picture and communicate that experience in such a way that it brings understanding. This is the scientific explanation behind why journaling and talking about a difficult event can be so powerful in helping us heal. In fact, research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.
Healing from a difficult experience no matter what age you are helps the left side work with the right side of the brain. When children learn to pay attention and share their own stories, they can respond in healthy ways to everything from a scraped elbow to a major loss or trauma. “The Whole Brain Child” By Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
I love that IPT includes storytelling and verbalizing our big emotions which defiantly helps bring feelings of calm and peace to ourselves and our children. This whole-brain approach can help kids be more kind, happy, and emotionally mature.
Let’s help each other work through big emotions by talking about what we are feeling in healthy ways!