Has your child gotten curious about your childhood? Do they ask to see photos from when you were the same age, or want to hear about what you did for fun and what your favorite toys were? Our children may find the idea of their mommy once being a little girl kind of funny, maybe even hard to believe. Telling stories from our past can help us become more human and feel more connected in our child’s eyes.
Storytelling used to be a common way to pass on family traditions or teach valuable lessons. Before there was any form of mass media, storytelling at home was about the only form of entertainment parents could offer their children. The art of storytelling has long since been outsourced to authors, songwriters, screenwriters, and movie producers. The industry of storytelling has turned most of us into consumers rather than creators of stories. While it’s quite relaxing and entertaining to read, watch, or listen to someone else’s story, there is a lot of power that comes from telling our very own. Let’s look at some ways that storytelling helps us as parents and connects us to our kids.
Share Your Memories Through Storytelling
Create Your Personal Victory
Telling stories from our childhood allows us to explore significant moments on our own terms. It may seem untruthful to tell anything except for exactly how we remembered it. But there’s no requirement that when we tell stories to our children, we have to report as if we are under oath. We can take personal liberties and craft a slightly different version if we choose!
As we craft a new version of a memory, we can choose what to include and leave out. Embellishing our strengths, turning our adversaries into caricatures, or putting the whole scene into a fantasy world are perfectly acceptable ways to make a simple story more compelling. We can recreate ourselves as the persona we wish we embodied at that moment. All of these tactics support our beliefs about who we are today.
We probably didn’t like getting teased on the playground, but we survived, and we can use that memory to highlight what we learned about courage as we retell it to our children. Perhaps we had a really tough summer when our best friend moved away. We can mention how sad we felt for a while and emphasize how playing with other friends helped us feel joyful again. We can take any story and find the silver lining to demonstrate our own vulnerability and resilience.
Awaken Your Inner Child
Responding to our child’s invitation to revisit our childhood could feel daunting or downright annoying. We are grownups, and we have stuff to do. We don’t have time for this!
But what if taking a brief stroll down memory lane gave you that little boost you need to make it through the week? I am willing to bet some hilarious moments are just waiting to be retold so that you and your kids can share a gut-busting laugh. “There was that time your uncle and I got covered in mud and tried to wash ourselves off before Mom saw!” “Did I tell you about when the gerbil escaped, and we had to catch the cat before she ate it?” Give yourself a few moments to search through the memories and find one or two gems you could share with your child. It could open the door to even more laughs than you were expecting.
As you consider the best parts of your childhood (mine: building forts in the backyard, creating monster caves in your bedroom, “cooking” Chef Boyardee . . .), maybe there are ways to incorporate that type of creativity and delight into your adult world. The things you loved as a kid could still be part of your life today, even if they look a little different. Maybe you use shipping boxes instead of sticks to build a fortress. Perhaps you follow a YouTube video to bake a simple treat. Whatever was your preferred type of play as a child can still be part of your life today.
Teach Lessons With Family Values
You’re familiar with Aesop’s fables, right? All of those lazy, greedy, impatient, or jealous animals that learned a tough lesson? Who needs fables when our life experiences are filled with lessons? As adults, we have plenty of material to work with when telling a story that teaches our children about personal character or family values.
In our home, health and safety are values that we honor every single day. It’s no surprise that my kids have heard the story of how I jumped off the bed and broke my arm plenty of times. It’s now less of a story and more of a legend. I get to be the real-life example of what happens when you make dangerous choices. Does it stop my kids from jumping on the furniture? Hah, I wish! But it serves as a quick and funny reminder of why we climb on playgrounds, not on beds and sofas. It’s more fun for everyone to let the story enforce the boundaries rather than me nagging them.
My daughter also loves the story of when I was being a show-off, reciting my times tables, and I swallowed a breath mint and nearly choked. How’s that for a lesson in humility and only talking when there’s no food in your mouth? Sharing a story with physical pain to go along with the moral seems to add a special touch. The point is, I have gotten comfortable retelling stories about my faults and shortcomings for the benefit of teaching my children about what matters in life. They will undoubtedly learn these lessons through their own experience. But I believe they find a certain comfort in knowing they are not alone in what they are going through.
Invite Wonder and Empathy
We may not like to admit how our childhood feels so foreign compared to life today. However, it’s this nostalgia, this bygone era, that fascinates our children. “You mean all the phones had cords?” “You had to wait a week for a new show?” “Grandma let you sit where in the car on road trips?”
Things that seemed mundane and routine to us as kids can foster a real sense of awe and wonder in our children. The pace of life (and childhood) continues to accelerate. Our children may be surprised to hear how different daily life has become in a relatively short amount of time. Sparking this sense of wonder can inspire our children to imagine their future and all the new gadgets and technologies that may change life yet again.
Inviting our children into the world of our past also creates opportunities for them to empathize with our experience. When they hear about how we cried, how we ran away embarrassed, how we stood up to the mean kid, they gain precious insight into how we operate. We can give the gift of connection through emotional experiences and teach our children how empathy allows them to see and feel what someone else is going through. Practicing this skill at home with family stories will enable them to relate better to their peers, as well as to themselves.
While Dr. Seuss, Disney, and PBS have filled our homes with realistic and imaginative stories, we as parents have the unique opportunity to share our personal stories and our family histories. These memories can make us laugh, allow us to be heroes, teach lessons, and create bonds. Sharing memories through storytelling from when we were little will open up a great big world.