Storytelling Techniques for Parents—Telling Family Stories

family photos memoriesI frequently blog about the many benefits of lap reading. And recently I’ve devoted a blog or two to the benefits of storytelling – meaning parents taking time to simply tell their children stories out loud. One blog was about the cultural benefits of storytelling and its impact on children’s respect for parents. The other was about the value of telling children family stories and how it strengthens their emotional resources.

Telling kids family stories is great, but it’s not always the easiest thing to do after a long day of working. So here are a few ideas that might be helpful when it comes to telling young children family stories out loud during an official story time. (I use the word official because it’s important to remember that simple conversations with your children about past events provide many of the same benefits as a story told in a more traditional bedtime or campfire-type setting.)

  • Practice ahead of time. Even though your family stories are true and you don’t need to worry about creating the events of the story, take a little time to reflect on the family stories you are going to share. It might help to think of a simple outline for the story. Rehearse it mentally and have it ready before your kids put you on the spot by demanding a story.
  • Make the kids the heroes of the family story if it’s about something that happened in their lifetimes. Let them help you tell the story by sharing what they remember about those events. Sharing appropriate stories about family members your children know can also be very interesting for your kids.
  • Keep stories age-appropriate with regard to content of course, but also length. A three-year-old will do much better with a shorter story than a nine-year-old would enjoy.

Looking for inspiration?

  • Dig out your box of memories or a family photo album and tell your children stories about a certain photo or about an item from your box. They don’t have to be full-on stories with carefully-developed plots. Telling your young kids about the dog you had as a child and a few things that dog did will keep their interest. Little girls might just love to hear about the bridesmaid’s dress you wore in your friend’s wedding (even if you hated it).
  • Tell your kids about a family heirloom. What is it? Why is it special to the family? How did it come into the family? If you don’t have an heirloom available to show your kids, tell them about different objects that were special to the family in the past – even if they never attained heirloom status.
  • Talk about vacations from the past. If they were from before your children appeared on the scene, tell them where you went, why you wanted to go there, what you saw, what you loved about that place. If you talk about vacations that your children remember, they will still be interested in hearing their memories told from your point of view, and they will enjoy helping out with the telling.
  • Tell your child the story of today. This is a great exercise to help them learn how to put their memories into words. If you weren’t together for the whole day, tell your child what you think happened to them during the time you were apart (be goofy if you want) and let them correct you. (Or maybe they’ll like your version better, who knows?)

Other Storytelling Ideas

  • If you know a few words of a language different than the ones you and your children hear every day, sprinkle a few of them throughout your story. Your kids will probably enjoy guessing what they mean.
  • Suffer a memory lapse from time to time during your story. Let your kids fill in the blanks. You can keep things simple and stay in charge of the story by only asking them to remind you what something looked like or where something was. You don’t have to let them take over telling the whole tale. This is a great way to add some new interest to a story you’ve already told many times.

Making the effort to share personal stories and family histories with your child will pay off in big ways. You will become more relatable to your children and they will begin to understand who you are from different perspectives. Stories humanize us. When you aren’t afraid to show some vulnerability by sharing your moments of past embarrassment, you encourage your kids to be more open and honest and make them more comfortable about sharing their own less-than-perfect moments as they get older. (They also see that it’s possible to survive embarrassment.) When you tell the story of an event your children were part of, it helps them recognize that their stories are valuable. Stories connect us. They reinforce our sense of belonging to our tribe. And they create the sense of responsibility that comes with belonging.