Personal narratives tell a story, whether about a brief moment or a longer episode in someone’s life.  Only one person can tell each personal narrative, because only one person has lived that story.  Every patient has a story.  Personal narratives are powerful, and can be healing and transformative for patients facing illness, especially children and teens, who may not have the verbal skills to express their feelings fully.

Stories connect people.  Sharing intimate details helps bring patients closer to those around them, at a time when they feel very isolated.  It also gives them a sense of relief and accomplishment to have shared a piece of themselves.  It can lighten their load.  Personal stories can also trigger empathy, compassion, and increased understanding and tolerance in people who witness the patient’s story.

The way we tell our stories reveals a lot about us.  It provides a peek into our essence, our core.  For instance, we can choose to play the victim in our story, or we can reframe the perspective and come from a place of power instead.  We write our own story, so we can choose weakness or empowerment.  Getting our story out is one way to let go – to unburden ourselves and move on from a difficult situation.

Here are some ways you can help kids tell their story — Ask them to use as many of their senses as they can to show detail when telling their story, to help take the reader to the same place they are at, and to feel the same feelings.  This will help readers understand them.  In a story, it’s better to show than tell, so ask patients what are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations that they experienced during the story?  Prompt them to let people know what they experienced and how they felt, and any lessons or ideas that came from their experience.

Here are some more tips on how to help kids tell their story, and a testimonial illustrating the power of personal narrative.

Digging Deep gives young people facing illness a friendly tool to start telling their personal story.  Fun, colorful pages and kid-friendly writing prompts get them started down the path of self-expression…and toward healing their hearts.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.
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