The Importance & Benefits of Family Storytelling
Do you tell family stories to your kids & grand kids?
There are many benefits to storytelling. Stories that have meaningful messages can instill virtues in your child; they can make them aware of their own culture and roots, opening them up to their family’s customs and traditions. Storytelling can improve your child’s listening skills, language skills, and sharpen his or her memory. On a deeper level, however, telling your children family stories can help your child form his or her identity.
Co-author of Your Child Year by Year, Claire Halsey explains, “our identity is strongly tied to our family and its history; not only where we’ve come from, but the family characteristics such as adventure, courage, creativity and even the jobs or achievements of family members.”
Halsey also says family story telling reinforces family characteristics and establishes the connection between generations in even the simplest way when, in a story, a child is told of characteristics they share with a parent or other relative.
Backed by Research
Studies show that children who know more about their family’s history have more control over their lives and higher self-esteem.
Psychologists Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Questions included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001 and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They compared the children’s results to several psychological tests the children had taken. The result? The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.
The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness. This health and happiness was highly attributed to the transferring of family history and information through the art of storytelling.
The Stories That Bind Us
The New York Times published an article titled “The Stories That Bind Us,” a narrative by author Bruce Feiler. The narrative tells stories about the challenges Feiler faced at family parties that made him feel like the family was falling apart. The challenges included differences in parenting and overall tension surrounding child and parent behavior and interaction. The conflict lead him to wonder what the “secret sauce” is that holds families together.
After much contemplation, Feiler determined the bottom line is, “if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.” Retelling these stories and moments to your children will help them, too, triumph through difficult times and focus on the positive ones.
Tips from the National Literacy Trust
Jonathan Douglas, director of the National Literacy Trust, has these top tips for parents to encourage family storytelling:
- It’s never too early to share family stories. Research shows that by the age of five, children in ‘word poor’ households have heard nearly 30 million fewer words than their peers and this holds them back when they start school. What’s more, teenagers in families who regularly talk about their history have higher self-esteem, stronger self-concepts, better coping skills and are more resilient.
- All families have traditions and a story to tell about them! If your traditions are steeped in history, encourage your child to do some research and find out everything they can. Also get your child to speak as many different family members as possible about the traditions, from grandparents to aunties, uncles and cousins.
- Create a family memory box and fill it with objects and images that remind you of key events and moments. Whenever you open the box, use the objects to prompt the retelling a family memory.
- If your child is going through a difficult situation which you can relate to, don’t be afraid to share your experience with them. Family storytelling enables children to learn about powerful emotions and cope with life’s challenges in a safe environment.
The director of the Society for Storytelling, Paul Jackson says “Personal stories are very powerful and can pull families together. The listener has a personal connection to these reminiscences. Even just asking ‘do you remember when?’ can trigger images and memories and a deep emotional response.”
Do you tell family stories to your children? To your grandchildren? Do you give them tidbits of information and memories that they can hold onto? Your children will associate an emotion with the stories they’re told, helping them remember them for years to come. They’ll also be thankful down the road to have had these memorable conversations with their grandparents and other family members after they’re gone. Stories turn into memories and keepsakes that they can hold on to forever.
Want to write your stories and memories down so you can remember them, relive them, and have something to pass on to your children? Sixty & Me outlines 6 steps to writing a memory book here. Get creative! Start writing and start storytelling.
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