explanatory story

Coping with a sibling’s unexpected behaviours

A story for a young sibling of an older autistic child with violent outbursts.

Some stories explain a situation that has happened, is currently happening, or is going to happen. An example of an explanatory story is the COVID-19 story. The goals of these stories are to explain in simple, factual language the “who, what, when, where, how” of an event without using judgement or fearful/threatening statements. One of the main goals of an explanatory story is to shift an event from the unknown realm into the known realm. Adults and children tend to fear what is unknown because they don’t know what to expect. Of course, you could expect chocolate, sunshine and rainbows from an unknown event. But, if you have an anxious temperament, the unexpected is always linked to scary thoughts. I don’t know the brain science of why the unknown is more frequently associated with negative emotions and thoughts than positive, but I do know that this is the way it is for people who experience anxiety. In addition, many topics for explanatory stories are inherently scary, such as: COVID-19 (global health problems), war, oppression, -isms (sexism, racism, classism, etc.), fearful/violent religious stories, news stories, illness, aggressive behaviour. These are all topics that tend to occur in real-time (and sometimes over long periods of time) and may or may not have direct impact on your child (from your child’s perspective). These topics may be sources of fear for young children if left in the unknown realm for three main reasons: 1) the topic directly impacts your child and is scary, 2) the environment changes due to the topic (i.e. the topic has indirect impact) or 3) the child is exposed to incomplete or inaccurate information on the topic and their anxious mind catastrophizes the information while shifting the unknown topic into a false known realm.

Besides the COVID-19 story, I wrote explanatory stories for a friend’s 2-year-old child and my almost 3-year-old daughter to acknowledge the unexpected (scary) behaviours exhibited by my friend’s 9-year-old autistic child. I have posted the “sibling” story on the Brave Tools page and changed the original family photos to freely available stock images to protect the identity of the individuals in the story. The words are original. The goals of the story include:

  • State the child is loved
  • State what are the possible behaviours of the autistic child
  • Explain how the child is kept safe
  • Explain who helps the autistic child calm down
  • Explain how the child resumes in family life (i.e. mommy comes back for a snuggle and autistic child cares for child)

After reading the story, you may feel as my husband did: why is there only one page dedicated to describing the scary behaviours? Shouldn’t there be a greater focus on the behaviours since that is what is scary? This will make more sense once you compare an “explanatory” story with a “brave” story, but my answer is, “No”. There should not be additional focus on the scary behaviours. Simple, clear language should be used to describe the behaviours. I write facts about a situation to achieve the goal of changing the unknown into the known by answering who, what, when, where, and how. Focusing on the scary behaviours with multiple pages does not change it more into the known and will likely increase fear because these are situations that are inherently scary. They will never become not scary no matter how many pages you use to describe them. Violence is scary, but you can still use explanatory stories to help make the unknown parts known (Where will I go when the scary behaviours happen? Who will help me? Who will help the violent child? What happens after?), thus alleviating some of the associated fear with a situation [more info].

Alternatively, a popping balloon is not inherently scary which is why you can use a brave story and exposure ladder to help move towards it not being as scary (although you may always have some fear about balloons). I differentiate between two types of stories: explanatory and brave. I will describe brave stories in my next post with an example of the fear of elevators and companion exposure ladder. [Comments are closed on this post. If you have a comment, concern, suggestion or want to tell me your story please contact me.]

Explosive Children

Many families are in crisis, especially during COVID-19 restrictions. An explosive child creates a threatening situation for all people in the household. Many caregivers rely on school to provide some unofficial respite from the child since most families are not receiving official respite care from any health organizations or social programs. You probably know a family coping with an explosive child, but you may not realize that the child is explosive! These parents often suffer in silence and isolation from their families and friends due to shame and embarrassment about their child’s behaviours. No matter how often the parents are reassured that they did not cause these explosions, they feel ashamed because there are still lots of people and professionals who imply that if they only parented the right way, their child would be fixed or cured. Although parenting can affect children, there are a lot of other factors at play (genetics being a big one!). Non-violent, peaceful, non-punitive, responsive parents can still end up with an explosive child. The parents are often sleep-deprived, fear being harmed by their own child, and become anxious and/or depressed. They have tried countless parenting and “expert” philosophies with no long-lasting benefit. They may be silently wading through the world of medication side-effects, dosing, and stigma. These families need a village to raise their most difficult child. Everyone can be part of someone’s village. Take a step back from the news cycles and ask yourself what act can you do today to help someone in crisis? Deliver a meal, clean a toilet, send sweets, offer a sliver of time.