Revealing the Inner Worlds of Young Children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and Parent-Child Narratives

Revealing the Inner Worlds of Young Children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and Parent-Child Narratives

Revealing the Inner Worlds of Young Children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and Parent-Child Narratives

Revealing the Inner Worlds of Young Children: The MacArthur Story Stem Battery and Parent-Child Narratives

Synopsis

Typically, we make sense of our experiences and interactions in a way that is guided by emotion and that takes the form of a narrative or a story. Using narratives, we can tell others about our experience, share common meanings, imagine possibilities, and co-construct new meanings. It is thus a momentous development when, at around age three, a child acquires the capacity to construct narratives. The book reports the work of a 20-year collaboration between 36 psychologists who have created and investigated a new tool to elicit and analyze children's narratives. This tool is the MacArthur Story Stem Battery, a systematic collection of story beginnings that are referred to as 'stems.' These stems are designed to elicit information from children about their representational worlds. This method is particularly exciting because using it allows developmental psychologists to gain information directly from children about their emotional states and what they are able to understand, and in turn, to use this information to explore significant emotional differences among children.

Excerpt

We depend on narrative. It is the raw material of family history and our own sense of evolving personal identity. Narrative is also the centerpiece of counseling and therapy as well as the core of depositions and testimony. Narratives break through the surface of conversation, as regularly as breathing. But why? Drawing on literary models, many writers suggest that when we narrate, we turn blind chronology into stories in which we articulate heroes, villains, problems, and possible resolutions. Further, since stories focus on goals and attempts, they articulate our chances for agency and for authorship (e.g., taking hold of how our lives unfold and are told) (Bruner, 1986, 1990; Shaefer, 1992). Other writers argue that, rather than first and foremost a personal expression, storytelling is how we connect our life to other lives. It is how we create a pool of common knowledge, how we make the internal flow of subjective experience into interpersonal negotiation or understanding. (Not only did my sister have her baby on Saturday, but, when I heard her voice, I felt some jealousy.) We borrow legends and images from our families and communities as storylines on which build personal histories. In addition, our cultural identities are defined by the larger historical narratives we borrow or reject (Passerini, 1992; Polanyi, 1989; Portelli, 1997). (The discovery of the “New World” is the destruction of an older world for Native Americans. The “Crusades” rank as one of many incursions of Infidels for many Muslim historians.) In the introductory chapter of this volume, Emde proposes that in personal narratives, private experience meets public forms of communication. In particular, he argues that personal narratives provide young children and their caregivers with the means to regulate, understand, and com-

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