Our April blog looks at the value and benefits for children and young people in being able to tell their story.

“A word after a word after a word is power.”

The author and poet Margaret Atwood wrote this striking sentence, and the potential behind it is explored in this month’s blog.

Children and young people living in homes where drugs or alcohol are a destructive presence experience a childhood open to constant distress.

This repeated exposure to the hidden harm of parental substance misuse has been shown to cause a range of emotional reactions including anger, guilt, shame, hopelessness and isolation. [1]

A traumatic and chaotic home life can leave an indelible mark on children and young people and, depending on the individual, force them to problem solve, disassociate or develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms.

This response can become ingrained leaving the child or young person in a permanently heightened, confused or numbed emotional state.

Living in an affected home can shatter a sense of security, attachment to others and feelings of hope for the future.

So when we meet a lost or angry or lonely or hopeless child, what are the ways in which we can try and help?

This is where Margaret Atwood’s quote about the power of language - what it might mean and how it can be harnessed - may offer an option.

Storytelling is as old as speech itself and it is recognised that the telling of a personal experience can have many benefits. [2]

In dealing with trauma or distress, stories are important – being able to give voice to an experience can return power to the powerless as they take control of the narrative and see their own place in it.

Exploring a personal story offers the chance to work through what has happened and see different perspectives. This reflection can start a path to understanding, self-identity and future resilience.

For practitioners working with children and young people, creating a story does not need be done through the physical act of writing.

Finding a way to express experiences when the child is ready, whether through talking, drawing, writing, music, dance or simply sharing a space with others can help the healing process.

Structured exercises like our feelings worksheets or hidden harm resources may help some children and young people, others may benefit from more visual activities such as drawing, painting, collage or physical representations in puppet work or acting.

Older children might prefer to film or animate their experiences and diary writing or blogging can be useful.

It may not be easy for a child or young person to revisit the sights, sounds and memories of their experiences.

But telling their own story - and having someone willing to listen to it - can help begin the process of healing.


:: Books written by affected adults of their experiences in childhood through to adult life:

Second best: My dad and me by Calum Best

It will never happen to me by Claudia Black

The truth about Leo by David Yelland

All of these people: A memoir by Fergal Keane

Other suggested books can be found on our practice resources pages.


Caroline Horst, development worker - Stars National Initiative



[1] Silent Voices: Supporting children and young people affected by parental alcohol misuse (2012)

[2] M. Drumm: The role of personal storytelling in practice 


Read our previous blogs:

Our March 2017 blog is a guest post from Rebecca Mistry, family work co-ordinator with RAPt.

Our February 2017 blog is a guest post from Josh, the child of an alcoholic and author of awareness-raising blog COAisathing. Here he shares his experiences, his thoughts and his hopes.

Our January 2017 blog looks ahead to opportunities for awareness and action in 2017.

All 2016 blogs

All 2015 blogs

December 2014 blog