When parents make a habit of reading aloud to their children or telling their children stories, there are many immediate benefits. It helps them increase their knowledge, because they are free to devote all their attention to the content of the stories, not having to devote any of their brain’s bandwidth to the complex act of decoding the written word for themselves. It nurtures their creativity, because they must imagine the story’s scenes for themselves as they listen. It helps them develop their vocabularies and memories.
However, when parents tell their children family stories, a new level of benefits opens up to the children. These benefits will last them throughout their entire lives.
Telling children stories about family members and themselves helps kids see themselves and their family members as heroes of their own stories. It also gives them a personal history to carry with them wherever they go, which helps children develop a strong sense of family.
Elaine Reese, professor of psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand and author of the book Tell Me a Story: Sharing Stories to Enrich Your Child’s World, says that “as they grow into teenagers, the kids who have a stronger store of these family stories are actually doing better in their psychological functioning. They’re less depressed [and] they’re able to cope better with stressful life events.”
Children love to hear about the time when Mom gave herself an unfortunate haircut as a child and how Grandma reacted to seeing it and how no one could fix it and Mom had to go to school for months with a bald spot. They love to hear about how when Dad was five he learned the hard way that he shouldn’t go off for a walk by himself because he got lost and one of the neighbors had to bring him home. They love to hear stories about themselves — how they went to the park and found a toy shovel someone had left behind and used it to dig for treasure. They will want to hear about the good times and bad times. For the stories about themselves, they will want to help tell the story.
The family stories you share with your children don’t always have to be part of an official story time. They don’t have to be about major life events. Sometimes telling family stories may actually feel like a simple conversation with your child. Even conversations about things that happened last week can count as family stories for kids — especially when your children contribute to the conversation/story. According to Reese, “these small stories are every bit as beneficial for your child’s development as the grand tales told around campfires…”
Reading and telling stories are wonderful ways to connect with children and to teach them, but telling family stories makes for even deeper connections. So don’t forget to share your family memories. They are part of you and your story. Give your children the opportunity to merge these memories into their own lives and to make your family stories a special part of their own story.