Creating Personal Stories

Photo of two children playing together in a class

Personal Stories are usually created for children to prepare them for new events or changes to their usual routines. As a parent, teacher or early childhood professional, you can use Personal Stories describe a social situation and show your child what he can do to cope or deal with it successfully.

The goal of a Personal Story is to:

  • describe social situations that are difficult for your child,
  • increase his understanding of this situation,
  • provide suggestions about how to behave, and
  • give your child some perspective or understanding on the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours of others.

Any child who is having difficulty in a social situation can benefit from using a Personal Story. You can adjust the language, length, content and format to go with the language and developmental level of your child (e.g., using visuals such as photographs, drawings, or other pictures to support the written text). Personal Stories can also be recorded on an audio or video tape to help children who learn best in this way.

When can I use a Personal Story?

  1. To prepare your child for new events and experiences

    A Personal Story can help prepare your child for new events by showing him what will happen and what he can do. It can also be very helpful in dealing with situations that your child might dislike or fear. For example,  

    • asking a friend to play
    • going to a doctor’s appointment
    • having a visitor at home or in the classroom
  2. To teach positive behaviour

    A Personal Story can help your child learn how to behave appropriately in a variety of situations, such as

    • asking for toys, instead of grabbing them from others
    • keeping hands to himself while waiting in line
  3. To teach a new skill

    A Personal Story can be used to break down and teach new skills, such as:

    • dressing
    • using the washroom
    • taking turns during play

How do I create a Personal Story?

In a Personal Story, a challenging situation is described in detail with the focus on important social information such as what others might think, feel, or do. Suggestions about how to behave are also provided to your child.

Personal Stories are written from your child’s perspective, using positive language in the first person (“I”), and in the present tense.

Correct: I sit quietly on the sofa during story time.
Incorrect: Adam must not talk during story time.

When writing a Personal Story, make sure that you only mention what your child should be doing, not what he should not be doing.

Correct: I tidy up when I’m finished playing.
Incorrect: I don’t leave a mess after I’m finished playing.

Before writing a Personal Story, be sure that:

  • It focuses on teaching one behaviour or skill.
  • You have talked to other people in your child’s life (e.g., child care staff, family members, school teachers, or support workers) to get their input.
  • When possible, your child is involved in writing his own Personal Story.
  • It is written at the appropriate level for your child and has visual supports (such as picture symbols), if necessary.

There are six kinds of sentences in a Personal Story:

Descriptive sentences explain the situation by answering the “wh” questions – where, who, what, when, and why.

Sometimes, my friend Julian (who) likes to play (what) the counting game (where) on the computer (when).

Perspective sentences describe the emotions, thoughts, and reactions of others involved in the situation.

Julian likes to play the counting game.

Affirmative sentences enhance the meaning of other statements.

This is OK.

Cooperative sentences identify what others will do to support your child.

My mommy/teacher will make sure I get a turn to play the counting game.

Directive sentences suggest what the child could do (must be positively stated).

I can sit beside my friend Julian and wait my turn.

Control sentences identify strategies that your child can use to remind himself how to behave. Often, a child (with the support of an adult) adds this sentence after reviewing the story.

I know that if Julian is playing on the computer, I can do something while I wait.

Many Personal Stories start with a Line Leader which acts as a personal introduction.

My name is Jennifer.

Carol Gray, the creator of Social Stories, defined a specific ratio of sentences to be used when writing Personal Stories:

DESCRIBE Sentences = descriptive + perspective + co-operative + affirmative
DIRECT Sentences = directive + control

There should be at least double the number of DESCRIBE sentences to DIRECT sentences.

Let’s take a look at a sample Personal Story:

My name is Matthew. (line leader)

I love playing with the big, yellow truck. (descriptive)

Jonathan likes to play with the yellow truck, too. (perspective)

When Jonathan is playing with the truck, I can say, “Can I have a turn, please?” (directive)

I wait until he is finished his turn. (directive)

It is OK to wait. (affirmative)

My mom will help me stay calm while I wait for my turn. (co-operative)

My mom is happy when I wait for my turn. (perspective)

When Jonathan is finished, it is my turn. (descriptive)

I have fun playing with the truck. (descriptive)

I can remember to ask Jonathan for a turn and to wait. (control)

In this sample there are the following number of sentences:

Descriptive = 3, Perspective = 2, Co-operative = 1, Affirmative = 1 Directive = 2 Control = 1

TOTAL DESCRIBE Sentences: 3 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 7

TOTAL DIRECT Sentences: 2 + 1 = 3

As suggested, there are more than double the number of DESCRIBE sentences than DIRECT sentences.

How do I use a Personal Story?

Once a Personal Story has been created, you can go over it with your child on a daily basis until he is familiar with it. It is important to introduce and practice the Personal Story before the challenging or new situation occurs so he can be prepared. For example, if your child is currently working on a story about eating his own snack, you can review the story right before snack time to remind him what might happen and how he should respond.

If the Personal Story is being used to teach your child new skills, provide him with opportunities to practice the steps to the skill it is teaching. Go slowly, as it often takes time to transfer learning from a story to “real life”. After all, you can learn the steps to parallel parking in a driver’s education book, but most people need to practice in a car before they can park successfully.

Play is a wonderful way to connect personal stories to real life practice. If your child is not interested in books or responds more to “hands on” learning activities, you can tell him a story during play. For example, to prepare your child for going to see the doctor you can show him a play medical kit and allow him to use it on dolls or yourself. If he is comfortable, you can use the toy instruments to listen to his heart using a stethoscope, or pretend to give him a needle.

What if it’s not working?

It is important to monitor whether the story is being useful. If your child is still struggling with the situation after two or more weeks, the story might have to be changed.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the story too long or wordy? Is it confusing?
  • Is it written at the right level for my child?
  • Should visuals (pictures) be included?
  • Does it focus on the appropriate behaviour?

Personal Stories, when written and used well, can be very powerful tools for parents, caregivers, and teachers to support children experiencing new or challenging situations.


The New Social Stories Book, By Carol Gray

Writing Social Stories with Carol Gray, By Carol Gray

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