Over recent weeks, we have explored ways that volunteer advocates communicate to remain positive, respectful, and inclusive. Afterall, the primary role of a Court Appointed Special Advocate, aka CASA, is to amplify a child’s voice. While within the courtroom, we literally act as the child’s voice. However, outside of the courtroom we want to find additional opportunities to raise their voices. Our hope is that children grow to feel comfortable and confident using their own voices.
Helping children write their own personal narratives is one way to do this. Formal narrative therapy, defined by Georgetown Psychology, seeks to be a respectful, non-blaming approach to helping a child reflect on and work through their personal experiences. It is important for children from hard places to reframe the negative experiences and often detrimental stories that have developed in their minds.
Here are a few tips that we can glean from narrative therapy as we interact with children who have lived through hurtful experiences:
- Reframe Circumstances
Developmentally, children think of themselves as the center of the world around them. So they often develop stories about situations that put undue blame on themselves. A common example is when a child believes that their parents’ divorce is his/her fault. Offering alternative perspectives gives a child an opportunity to reframe the story without them being the focal point.
- Use Third Person Language
To build a foundation for positive self worth, children need to separate their identity from the things that happen to them. One way to do this is to retell their story in third person. Using the pronouns “he,” “she,” or “they” gives a more neutral feel to a story allowing a child to process personal experiences more easily.
- Incorporate Their Preferences
We all have personal preferences when it comes to language – children, too! When you aren’t sure, ask a child what words they prefer. For example, as described in this article by The Mighty, a child with a disability may be more or less comfortable with the phrase “special needs” versus “disability.”
We can’t (and don’t want!) to completely change a child’s story. Their past, no matter how challenging, is a significant part of who they are. However, we can help a child rewrite their story in a balanced way, incorporating positive reflections and uplifting language. Use the story to be a source of encouragement and motivation.
You can learn more about changing a child’s story at www.henricocasa.org.