The Crystal-Hearted Princess (A Story for Assertiveness)

The Crystal-Hearted Princess

(A Story for Assertiveness)

Since high school, my brother has been like the Pied Piper of Hamelin  -- kids followed him around at camp, adored him as their babysitter. And, boy, can he spin a yarn! For years my three kids hung on his every word, groaning at having to wait for the next “chapter” of Billy and Lily’s adventures.

He’s a natural. 

Some of us have to read a book.

The one I chose -- Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour by Susan Perrow -- taught me not only how to craft a story using metaphor, journey & resolution but also about its potential beyond entertainment. 

[T]herapeutic stories can be described as ones that help restore lost equilibrium, or regain a sense of wholeness. When teachers, psychologists, parents, grandparents (and any other adults in a childcaring role) use a healing story with children, the story has the potential to bring the behavior or situation back into balance.
— Susan Perrow, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour, page 44
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Storytelling can supplement the Parent Effectiveness Training skills. When the child has a problem, we can help through Active Listening, Silence, Attending, Acknowledgments and Door-Openers; we might also share a tale to help them meet their need and process their problems. Similarly, this tool might assist in getting kids to change behavior under our Line of Acceptance, either because they have a negative effect on us or -- we fear -- on their own well-being.

In her article, Kathryn Tonges, early childhood educator and my instructor trainer, shares snippets of how she injects hopefulness into a character's dilemma, invites interactions of kids and leads group problem-solving.

We find even more examples in Perrow's book; over seventy stories, her own and others', address behaviors ranging from pinching and fighting to whining about being bored. 

I have shared “Never Get Enough” (page 156) with numerous parents as an inspirational way to meet underlying needs for compassion and safety!! The creator, Canadian preschool teacher Sandra Frain, decided to meet her energetic young student’s need for attention by scooping him up and holding him close as she made up a story on the spot about a little runt of a puppy who kept getting tossed and turned by his brothers and sisters. Since he was smaller and slower than the others, he never got quite enough milk from his mommy. One day, a silver-haired lady visited the kennel, spotted him, fell in love and declared, “I would like this puppy.” Never Get Enough was tucked into a warm pocket and rocked to sleep on the way to his new home. 

Frain reported that it was a "transformative" experience -- the boy was subdued by the rocking and everyone completely engrossed. She has reused the story whenever a student or the group needs to be "brought in" to themselves.

A story I have used personally is “A Bag of Nails” (page 169). Several years ago, when Jake (then 13) was doing a lot of work on noticing his anger and regulating himself, I read it to him once as creative Consulting. It offers a gentle reflection on the lasting consequences of our words and actions.

With Perrow's help, we can weave impactful narratives. Perrow guides the would be story teller to consider the “challenging” behavior, describe the “desirable” behavior and create a tale that draws the listener in. She highlights aspects of the many stories she includes in her book and explains why they work. Repetition, rhythm and rhyme, for example, is important because “[i]t is a warm, enjoyable feeling for children to know what comes next.” Perrow also echoes my high school English teacher who always urged us to give the reader credit -- she recommends a light touch that allows children to draw their own conclusions.

One parent recently lamented that there was no Youth Effectiveness Training for really little ones (it's for kids 12-18). Stories that we P.E.T. graduates make up can function as "training" in the skills!

Over the years, a number of parents have been concerned about their child’s hesitance to assert themselves. I wrote the tale below in 2014 with that (and a very special girl) in mind. I like to imagine living in a kingdom where our leader models assertive Confrontive I-Messages! Here’s how one came to be so wise.

The Crystal-Hearted Princess

On a day like today, in a place not far away, there was a young princess who had a heart that was unique in all the world. It was a real, perfectly functioning heart but it was made of sparkling crystal.  

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The princess, at times, thought she could feel little cracks forming and feared that her heart might shatter so she tried her best to be tough and brave. She was afraid to cry because even her tears were liquid glass and she did not want others to find out her secret. She so wanted to just be like everyone else.

Sometimes other children were allowed to visit the castle and would go out to the royal grounds to play with her. During their time together, something might happen - they might say or do something - and the princess would feel keenly upset. She would run away quickly, rather than shed one tear in front of the others.

The princess would only cry silently inside and wonder to herself despairingly:

Why oh why can’t they see
That their impatience and pushing hurts me?

Even the animals in the forest whom she loved would sometimes harm her unintentionally. The forest squirrel who was so thrilled to find the nuts she had in her outstretched hand would nip her fingers in excitement. Never in a million years would Squirrel have done that if he knew that the crystal-hearted princess didn’t like it!

The princess would only cry silently inside and wonder to herself despairingly:

Why oh why can’t he see
That nipping and biting hurts me?

Great big Possum was so friendly and loving that she would waddle over and suddenly fall on the princess with her great weight, startling her and almost toppling her delicate frame. Never in a million years would Possum have done that if she knew that the crystal-hearted princess didn’t like it!

The princess would only cry silently inside and wonder to herself despairingly:

Why oh why can’t she see
That falling and crushing hurts me?

As for her parents, the gentle queen and king, they were stumped as to how to help their only child. When she ran to them, they folded her into their flowing robes with only a “Shhhh, shhhhh, there now.” The princess would even despair at this in her darkest moments:

Why oh why won’t they say
Something to help the sad go away?

The royal couple grew concerned as their beautiful daughter felt more frustrated with each passing day. It’s really hard to keep from crying year in and year out! 

They consulted some wise old stars in the sky who were constantly watching over the princess. The queen and king shared a poem* with her that very night:

The ancestral stars have shown us
How best to play our part
To help you, our princess,
With such a fragile heart.

‘Tis not forever that we will be here on earth
We will one day join the stars in the sky.
So though WE can speak to possum, squirrel & guests
To strengthen your heart and cry real human tears
You yourself must use words, you must have less fear.

In the days ahead, many others are to come your way
It’s so very important to have YOUR say!

So to possum: 
“I love you but you give me a fright
When you sit on my legs with your weight and your might.
You may be smaller than me but it still gives me pain.
I’d like to be friends if you can change!
Instead, would you mind asking me
and I’ll hug you and play with you -- 
oh yes, I’d be pleased!”

And to squirrel: 
“Did you know that you can be quite rough?
I’m a princess, I’m strong, I’m smart and I’m tough.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings
or wishes or all kinds of needs.
Instead, would you mind asking me
and I’ll hug you and play with you -- 
oh yes, I’d be pleased!

To anyone in the kingdom you may choose to say: 
”If I’m busy playing or dreaming all alone,
as I am wont to do, 
please make an effort to be kind, to wait. 
I’ll remember you are there and be ready to frolic
when we have our merry playdate!”

The more the princess practiced sending these loving messages the stronger her heart grew. The stars were right! Eventually, the crystal was fully encased in a human heart covering that protected its beauty. The princess was now free to cry, knowing that her heart would never break. Imagine her delight when she tasted her salty human tears!

Possum and Squirrel, as well as the garden companions who kept her company when she was young, all remembered her as a princess who loved fully, laughed heartily and braved hard circumstances with grace. 

The crystal-hearted princess became queen and lived long past her parents. On the evening of her passing, all the saddened animals and people in the kingdom looked up to find the new star in the heavens. When they saw it appear, they gasped! All agreed that it seemed to shine with a particular brightness, almost as though lit from within, and were deeply amazed.

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The End


* In her parents' poem, I added requests after the three part Confrontive I-Messages. After the princess describes the other's behavior, the effects of that behavior on her and her attendant feelings, she can propose alternative actions that she would like. This idea comes from Marshal Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication. I feel that for young kids, sometimes letting them know what they CAN do is helpful.

Credits: Crystal heart (; Bright star (