Metaphor: the beating heart of communication

Posted: 03/10/2017

‘A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.’ (

Once upon a time, in a land far away (to use a metaphor to describe our long lost school days) you may have learnt a definition of metaphor similar to the one above. And perhaps it is just as likely that you have forgotten it. And yet, even if you cannot define what a metaphor is, your language, along with everyone else’s, is ‘filled to the brim’ with metaphor.

One writer about metaphor, James Geary, estimates that we utter a metaphor every 10 to 25 words. Heavens! Stone the crows! Nearly every time we open our mouths metaphors are ‘making a huge splash’, ‘painting an amazing tapestry’ and ‘taking us on a journey through a colourful landscape’.

Isn’t it incredible that we seem to get closest to describing the very essence of something by likening it to something else? No doubt metaphor is the beating heart of communication.

Metaphors are particularly useful when it comes to the difficult task of expressing feelings. Finding the right words to describe how we feel is seldom easy—especially when we humans so often feel many things at once.

This is why Innovative Resources uses a variety of characters as metaphors to help counsellors, social workers, parents and teachers unlock valuable conversations with people about emotions, behaviour, choices, strengths and opportunities.

The Bears, for example, is a simple set of highly expressive bear characters, without words. Similarly, Stones … have feelings too! is a set of stone characters who demonstrate the wide emotional range that humans experience—all the way from shattered to ecstatic. Asking, ‘What is happening?’ to a bear or stone character displayed on a particular card, can help people put their own feelings into words.

Similarly, in The Wrong Stone, a picture book written by Russell Deal, readers meet a little stone who thinks he won’t be selected for inclusion in a wall because his shape is all wrong. Many readers will recognise their own feelings of being different or of not fitting in. They can also build empathy for others who may be feeling this way too. When they discover that the Wrong Stone has a special place in the wall, they may better understand that they too have strengths, and how important it is that everyone is valued and included no matter what their differences may be.

Cars ‘R’ Us uses the metaphor of a car to engage in conversations about choice and agency. Questions like ‘Who is in the driver seat?, ‘What fills your tank?’, or ‘What road are you taking?’ extend the car metaphor to help describe situations, feelings, body signals and behaviours. Most of all, this rich and very accessible metaphor can help children and adults alike strengthen their capacity to make empowering choices.

Other card sets published by innovative Resources such as Strength Cards for Kids and Funky Fish Feelings incorporate an observer character into each card in a metaphorical way. (The former uses a toucan and the latter, a seahorse.) This observer or witness character could represent a parent, teacher, sibling or best friend. In real life, not everyone has a toucan on their shoulder or in their playgroup, but asking questions about what the toucan is observing in the scene depicted on the card is an effective way of introducing the role of an observer into the conversation.

Choose from The Bears, Stones…have feelings too!, Funky Fish, Cars ’R’ Us, Can Do Dinosaurs, Strength Cards for Kids, Picture This and many more resources that use metaphors to enrich conversations about the important stuff in life—feelings, hopes, strengths, relationships, values, stories and goals.

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