Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rafael Stories

I started using a technique called "Annie stories" with my son when he was having severe anxiety. I changed the name to Rafael stories so the main character is a bilingual, biracial boy, like my son. I now use the same technique in my classroom when I don't want to lecture, but I want to teach an important self-control skill or behavior.

What I know from research, is that it is very important to teach self-control and persistence. I have noticed that in particular, many of my Black boys and refugee boys have very low levels of persistence and problem solving skills. When they start working on a problem, many of them give up when it starts to get hard. The students who can overcome this problem, tend to go on and do very well in school. (One of my Somali boys who struggled with this at the beginning of the year improved his reading skills by over 2 years in one year.)

Originally, "Annie stories" were designed to help kids overcome fears, like testing anxiety. These have been modified into "Rafael, Ali, Sophia and Daisy" stories in my classroom. Basically, the story is modified to deal with whatever worry or poor behavior choice that the student or class is dealing with. I also use the stories to model good choices students are making to encourage those actions to occur more frequently.

I started using these stories with my son when he was 3. He was having severe anxiety and refused to come out of his room after a windstorm for a matter of days. We worked with a social worker and Dr. with little improvement. Here is something I wrote from the first week I used the stories.

Today's story was about listening to the wind chime (we have one outside and it seems to remind him of the storm) and going out the front door - two things that currently cause massive anxiety, hysterical shaking and screaming. The story goes something like this:

Rafael is a boy who lives in a yellow house. He has a little sister named Sophia. In Rafael's house there is a bathroom, a playroom, a kitchen. He lives with his Mommy and his Mama. . . so you get the idea. Basically I describe our own family.

Rafael was going to go to the farmers market, and so he went to the front room to get on his shoes. He started to feel his heart beating and he started shaking. (Two symptoms he has been having.) So, he took some magical breaths. Rafael breathed in really slowly and breathed out really slowly. Can you show Rafael how to take magical breaths? Rafael was still feeling anxious, and so he asked for some cuddles from his Mommy or Mama. Then, he put on his shoes and walked out of the front door.

When he stood on the porch (another difficult area for Mateo), he looked at the tree and started to get scared. Then, he took another magical breath and looked at the strawberry plants. He wondered if there were any ripe strawberries to eat and looked at all of the plants and found a red, ripe strawberry.

He then walked all the way down the stairs by himself and was so proud of himself. He had been scared, but he walked down the stairs all by himself and he was ok.

Anyway, this is the general format for the stories, only they change for whatever seems to be the biggest issues of the moment. The first few times, the stories were so scary for Mateo that he would try to climb back into his crib when I told them and start shaking hysterically.  Now he asks for Rafael stories, and will even listen to them in the play room. He has also been taking Rafael's magical breaths!

We are noticing gradual improvement every day, but this has really been a tough thing for our little guy. I guess we're all learning something - Mateo's learning about being brave after a storm and we're learning a lot about having patience.

I'll talk more in another post about how I started using this technique in the classroom.

Here is how I use Rafael stories to encourage summer reading:

Here is more about Rafael stories and the research behind them:

1 comment:

  1. Ah - social stories - I am sometimes amazed at how well they can work. The pre-K teacher I work with uses them a lot.