Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2022

What do you do if your child suffers from nightmares, fear of failure, or other phobias? What do you do if they are allergic to cow’s milk, gluten, pollen, tomatoes or dust? Simple: you tell them an extraordinary story.

Tijn Touber | October 2003 issue
The idea of writing healing stories for children came to him after his appearance on a programme from the Flemish television network VTM, in 1999. During the programme, Paul Liekens, a NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) trainer, told how many phobias and allergies could be cured using NLP techniques. He backed his claim up by helping a well-known anchorman overcome his fear of flying. After the programme, the network was overrun with calls, many from parents with children suffering from allergies and other sensitivities.
But children do not respond well to the abstract NLP reprogramming techniques, which focus on learning to look at yourself from a distance. Liekens went looking for an alternative way of reaching the subconscious, and hit upon the idea of using fairytales and metaphors in stories. He initiated a test project using stories with 20 children. The results were so amazing – 18 of the 20 children overcame their problem – that his subjects’ parents have allowed their telephone numbers to be published in his recent book ‘Healing Stories’ so that sceptics could call them up.
According to Liekens, biological processes are driven by the subconscious. If someone contracts food poisoning after eating shrimp, the subconscious may repeat the reaction of vomiting and becoming ill when other fish products are eaten. The positive intention behind this exaggerated reaction is to protect you from getting sick again by preventing you from eating fish. Conventional medicine keeps this reaction in check by using remedies such as antihistamines. But it doesn’t solve the problem, which means people continue to have the allergic reactions.
Liekens and his co-author Ann Delnoy work with metaphors and fairytales to rectify this glitch in children’s sub-consciousnesses. Fairytales give young people the opportunity to recognise patterns in their own life, without directly pointing them out. A child can strongly identify with a stuffed animal or a hero. What happens to the stuffed animal in the story is, as it were, what the child is experiencing. If the stuffed animal heals from a particular symptom, the child can too.
Fairytales make a distinction between identity – ‘you are healthy’ – and physical reactions – ‘your tummy hurts’. Liekens: ‘You are not the one who is allergic, it is your skin or your stomach that is having an allergic reaction. NLP assumes that the subconscious is made up of countless parts. Sometimes the various parts confuse signals and use, for example, an allergic reaction to cats, so they don’t have to go visit aunt Grumble. Which is why some people are allergic to cats, except their best friend’s cat.’
In the fairytales Liekens also helps the children discover that they have little helpers in their tummies (their own healing power), and they can ask them anything they want. In the stories the stuffed animals become stronger, smarter or develop more self-confidence and the allergy ‘excuse’ is no longer needed. The book also provides practical tips for parents to assist them in successfully making up a story to help their child heal.
Write a healing story
Anyone can write a healing story. Here’s how.
1. What is the problem? Is your child afraid to read aloud in front of the class? Is she scared that other children won’t like her? Does she feel inferior because she can’t get the math homework?
2. What does your child admire? Which heroes does he most identify with? Which stuffed animals does she like best? Which television programmes? What would he like to achieve? Which are her favourite sports or activities? What are his special character traits?
3. Choose a character and a context for the story. Choose a world in which your child will be able to enjoy herself. Princes, planets, animals or insects can be good options. Decide which animal or stuffed animal will be the main character and symbolise your child.
4. Think up a beginning to the story in which the main character has lots of fun adventures, but also has problems that are similar to your child’s symptoms. The character should not be sick, only have a problem.
5. Then imagine an ending whereby the main character has got to where he or she wanted to be: stronger, smarter, symptom-free, able to eat what he or she wants, etc.
6. Make up a journey the main character will take to get there. It’s always handy if someone, another hero from your child’s world, gives the character good advice. For example, a wise woman, magician or old owl tells the main character that she has all kinds of helpers in her tummy that keep her healthy. One of them meant no harm but accidentally caused the symptoms. That helpers or allies will now help get rid of the symptoms, so that her stomach will get strong and completely heal. ‘Your tummy used to get sick from X, but it’s become strong enough and will be able to handle it from now on.’ In the story, the main character thus learns to do things it once could not but now can.
More information:
Spetter’s party
As an example we’ve included part of a healing story written for a girl suffering from a fear of failure who loves dolphins. Result: after just one story she had more confidence while playing basketball. She started running forward more often and dared to ask for the ball, and other kids began passing to her. In school, her scores for spelling and math improved, everything started to get easier and she started to enjoy life more.
It looked like it would be a warm day. It was eight o’clock in the morning and Spetter lay enjoying his cosy waterbed in the salty, warm water. Soon Mum would come to wake him. Spetter thought of the fun things he would do at school today. The school party was in a couple of days and today they were going to practice hard for the big dolphin show.
Spetter’s mother interrupted his nice morning dreams with an equally nice surprise: ‘Spetter, Spetter, get up! Come look. I have yummy fresh sardines for you.’
Spetter sprang out of his bed and swam to his mother who dished him up a delicious breakfast. ‘Oh, Mum, I’m such a lucky dolphin. First a tasty breakfast, and later at school I get to practice for Sunday’s big dolphin show. Do you think I’ll be able to do all the routines at the school party?’ Spetter asked somewhat hesitantly.
‘Of course you will, sweetheart, there’s no doubt you can do it or they wouldn’t have chosen you to be in the show. They might not have picked you in the past, but now that you’re taller, bigger and stronger, of course everyone wants you to join in.’
Spetter felt his strong muscles relax under his smooth skin. He was very pleased with himself.
‘Come on young man, it’s time you went to school.’
It was already pretty crowded at school. All the dolphin children were working to prepare for the party. Spetter went directly to the sea hall where the big dolphin show would be held. The teacher asked who wanted to demonstrate the first party dive. All the dolphins raised their tails high. They all wanted to show how well they could dive. Spetter suddenly felt short of breath. He had done the dive at least 100 times, but he suddenly couldn’t remember how to do it. He felt absolutely miserable, his heart was pounding in his throat. Timidly, he glanced to one side. Could his friends hear how fast his heart was beating? He didn’t want to lose face, so he put his tail up too. He just hoped the teacher wouldn’t pick him. No such luck. From the 15 raised tails she chose him. ‘Ok Spetter, come show us how it’s done. You can do that dive beautifully. It would help if everyone saw how you do it.’
Spetter didn’t know what had come over him. What should he do now? Suddenly, he took a courageous decision: ‘I’ll just say I don’t remember. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m here to learn.’ Just when he was about to open his mouth he felt all the tension flow out of his body, replaced by a surge of great inner strength. This strength rewarded him for his honesty. It was as if the strength wanted to say: ‘Whatever you do is just fine. But do it for yourself and don’t worry about what anyone else says about you.’
‘Hey Spetter, stop daydreaming, we’re waiting for your perfect dive!’
Spetter smiled. He hadn’t dived yet, but he already felt like a winner. He had discovered the source of his own strength deep within himself. No one could take this away from him. Full of renewed courage and convinced he would pull it off, Spetter plunged into the water. It was his most beautiful dive ever.
‘Hurrah Spetter! Hurrah Spetter!’ his friends cried. Spetter was happy. But it had little to do with the dive. He had just been himself and didn’t care what others thought of him. He was proud of himself! For Spetter, the party had begun today!
Adapted with permission from ‘Helende verhalen voor kinderen’ (Healing Stories for Children), Paul Liekens and Ann Delnoy (Ankh-Hermes, ISBN 90 202 6040 5), a book – only in Dutch available – with ‘metaphors for children with allergic reactions, over-sensitivities or fears’.

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