Your Story Says Something About You: My Daughter is Afraid of a Pumpkin


For the last seven days in a row, my two-year-old daughter won't go to sleep. Instead, she stays up for nearly an hour past her bedtime telling me or her mother a story about the pumpkin she swears is outside of her room.

We reassure her, always, there is no pumpkin outside of her room. Pumpkins can't grow that large. That we are here for her and she has no reason to fear the pumpkin. But each night, when she should be sleeping, she explains how the pumpkin is going to get her and give her booboos; the pumpkin is going to get her and take her far away.

The story stems from the same source of fear and anxiety but gets more elaborate every night. At first, we soothed her by explaining her stuffed animals would protect her. The stuffed dog, cat, bear, even octopus, would never let a mean pumpkin get into her room and harm her. Then we added the actual animals into the explanation, how the dog and the cat would stand between her and the pumpkin barring their teeth and yowling their terrible yowls. Then we added how mama and daddy would always protect her with our magic shields. We even gave her a magic shield so she could protect and defend herself. 

But every night, the fear of the pumpkin would come rushing back into her bedroom around the time the sun finally set.

Edit and expand upon the story 

This isn't a story about child psychology, a monologue about how children process trauma, or a theory on what her pumpkin is meant to mean. I am not educated or have a remote understanding of how people work but I understand stories. And my daughter is doing a fine job of learning how to edit and expand upon the story she is trying to tell each night--with audience participation as my wife and I--trying to fill in the gaps, create meaning, and establish a coping mechanism for her.

Each story we tell shares a new experience

Children are natural storytellers according to literature evolutionist (my title for him, not his) Jonathan Gottschall's The Storytelling Animal. In it, we explore why and how children tell stories, how each story they tell shares a new experience, allows them to make sense of the world around them, and places them in new roles, whether captaining a pirate ship, taking care of a new baby, or in this instance, fearing the pumpkin.

It is not for the story and exploration of the human condition alone that we learn storytelling from a young age but also for the fundamental need for being heard. She explains her day to us in grand detail. We hear the elaborate tale of how her friend at school bit her finger or tripped her on the playground or danced to an imaginary violin, only to understand that her friend did none of these things. In fact, in each instance, our daughter was the culprit.

We tell stories to connect. We tell stories share experiences. We tell stories because we have a message we are urged to convey. Our daughter tells stories because she is learning what interests us-her audience-and what stories are part of explaining life through action. But through the stories she shares, I can see the main components of storytelling pushing through. 

Connect the main components of a story

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Dialogue
  4. Setting
  5. Point of View

Storytelling is never easy

She tells the story from her perspective. She is the protagonist, the affected, and the one who must overcome the pain and terror. She lays in bed afraid. She speaks to the pumpkin and says she must not go, cannot be taken far away from home.

A story can be simple but storytelling is never easy. Even when told by a two-year-old. Or perhaps, especially when told by a two-year-old.