Why Storytelling is Better than Lecturing

By David Sewell McCann © 2013
Originally published at The Good Men Project
Read more from McCann.

He left his sneakers out in the rain again. She will not leave her sister alone. He is terrified of spiders. She refuses to go to her annual checkup with the doctor. This is all normal everyday stuff for moms and dads everywhere. Fears, frustrations, anxieties, excitements, habits and dynamics and—as parents—we intervene.

For dads this can often be a lecture. We reason with our children. We lay out the ‘reality’ that most spiders are not dangerous and that in fact, they are vital in the ecosystem. We explain that their sister is much smaller and that hitting them is never OK— especially with something hard like a fisher price telephone. We give them a very reasonable argument for changing their behavior, and sometimes they nod their heads and agree: they will try harder, they won’t do it again, they won’t be afraid next time, they will do what you ask.

But seldom does anything change. This rarely even works with adults, let’s face it. Still afraid of speaking publicly? Lost the keys again? Responding defensively to constructive criticism?

There is an alternative parenting technique that is hardly new. It has been used since our species could speak, and it is not only effective, it is delightful: Storytelling. We are wired for it—literally. The neuroscience is conclusive—we use stories to build our realities and make sense of them. Think about your day—how much of what you said today, was a story? Most of it? All of it? When your spouse asked you about your day, your answer was a story. When your friend asked about the goings on in Syria or Boulder or Kenya, your answer was a story.

So within the context of parenting—how is this not the go-to parenting tool of our time? Quite simply: fear. We are afraid we won’t know what story to tell. We are afraid we will tell a boring or bad story. We are afraid our children will screw up their faces and say, "that was dumb."

To these fears, I say, "There was once a man who was afraid to talk. He was worried about what it would sound like—would he growl? Would he hoot? Would he squawk? But then, one day he saw that a child was about to fall into a trap he himself made to catch coyotes. The child was too far away to reach so he finally called out, 'Stop!' The child stopped. The child was fine—and this was because of what he had spoken."

So that was a story. The intention was to get you to get past your fear, reframe storytelling, and then motivate you to open your mouth and speak. Is your child afraid of the dark? Tell them a story about a mouse who has the same fear and then—because darkness is a part of life—he gets over it. Just make it up and keep talking until the story it over. It’s that simple. It doesn’t need to be profound or even insightful. You just need to show your child that you care enough to try.

And you will be amazed. Sometimes a single story can make all the difference. Bullying? Tell a story. Moving to a new home? Tell a story. Dog is going to be put to sleep? Tell a story. Explain later, if you have to—but understand that through storytelling, you are speaking their language. The language of dreams. The language of possibility. Plus, it is a lot of fun.


Trusting Birth: 43 Weeks of Faith

By Dr. Christopher Stroud, MD, FACOG
Home page: StroudObGyn.com

This handsome young man is Luis Alan and at birth he weighed 10 pounds, 1 ounce. I had the pleasure of attending his birth recently and I just had to share a few things about it with you.

Luis is the first-born to his mother and, despite his impressive size, was born vaginally. That alone is certainly interesting, but the real story here is of his mother’s perseverance and faith in herself. You see, on the day of Luis’ birth, his mother was 43 weeks pregnant, something rarely seen any more. We are often a community of convenient inductions of labor. That is to say, many in our community elect to have labor induced at a convenient time; at a time that works best for them, for their physician, perhaps for their family members, for a variety of reasons. Elective induction of labor is somewhat of a community norm.

Luis’ mom knew from the beginning of her pregnancy that something was wrong with trying to take charge of an otherwise natural process; that there had to be risks with attempting to take charge of labor. She made it clear to me at our first meeting that she preferred to avoid induction of labor unless there was a clear indication otherwise. Her pregnancy progressed uneventfully; even remarkably unremarkable some would say. As she approached her due date she didn’t show frustration or concern. When she was one week past her due date many of the women around her began to ask why she wasn’t being induced and she explained that there was nothing magic about the due date and that we had a plan to, “watch and wait.”

Then when she was two weeks past her due date the number of those around her feeling compelled to share their opinion that she should be induced grew, but she elected to, “Watch and wait.” She would always ask me, “Is there any sign that something is wrong with my baby? Is there any reason we should induce labor other than the fact that we’ve passed my due date?” My answer was, “No.” So we watched and we waited. When we found ourselves headed towards the forty-third week of her pregnancy she remained unshaken in her desire to avoid induction of labor if possible. She had several false alarms and trips to labor and delivery thinking (hoping) she was in labor. On one such trip she encountered another physician who tried hard to convince her to be induced because of her advanced gestational age, even suggesting it was, “Unsafe to let the pregnancy continue.” She said, “No thanks,” and went home.

We monitored her every-other-day during the last week so to make certain everything was fine with Luis and just when it looked like the pregnancy would never end she came to the hospital in actual labor one evening. But that’s not the end of the amazing story of her perseverance…

Luis’ labor was not your average labor, just as the pregnancy wasn’t an average pregnancy. This labor was slow, by any definition of slow. Hours upon hours went by with little, if any change. We talked about using medications to augment her dysfunctional labor pattern and she said, “Let’s just wait,” so we waited. We waited all through the night and eventually used a very small dose of an oral medication just to help the process along over the final phase of labor. She finally became fully dilated and after several hours of very hard work, delivered this beautiful baby, Luis.

This birth is a story of perseverance, confidence, and faith. She had such unshakable faith in her ability to do what she was so masterfully created to do: to give birth. Despite a barrage of advice to the contrary from those around her, she held fast to what she knew was right. She consulted with me to confirm that Luis was safe and that she was healthy, and then she and her husband made an informed decision to do what they believed was right: to watch and wait. That decision saved them, in my opinion, from what could have easily resulted in a certain cesarean section.

I spend a lot of time and energy talking about vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC) and how to improve one’s chances of a successful VBAC. But this birth should remind us that the best way to approach VBAC is not to approach it - by never having the first cesarean section. In the vast majority of cases that means avoiding induction of labor if at all possible. Patience, faith in your body and its ability to do what it’s perfectly designed to do, and a partnership with a healthcare provider that will help you achieve the birth experience you desire are your most effective tools in the fight to avoid unnecessary cesarean sections. There are numerous times when labor should be induced; induction of labor is not evil in and of itself. The problem lies with the unnecessary induction of labor.

I am blessed to participate in some truly wonderful pregnancy and birth experiences. I will not soon forget the time I spent with Luis and his parents...

Dr. Christopher Stroud is a Board Certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist with practices in Fort Wayne and Auburn, Indiana. Part of his mission, he states, is to "care for women throughout the continuum of their lives in a way that is scientifically and morally sound." He can be contacted via his website, StroudOBGYN.com, via email at christopher.stroud@parkview.com or on the Facebook page for his practice. 

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