Parenting • Jan 30, 2018

Storytelling With Your Children

Stories are everywhere.  Newspapers, books, TV shows, movies, artwork,  social media,  sermons/homilies and so on.  Stories are a form of social communication – a way to share our lives with one another – our thoughts, feelings, and experiences.  Storytelling is universal to humans and present in all cultures.  So what does this have to do with parenting or your child?

Storytelling is a great developmental activity.  This may include telling stories to your child, teaching your child how to tell a story, making up stories together, and actively listening to your child while they tell (or attempt to tell) a story.

Here are my top 12 reasons to engage in storytelling with your children:

12) It’s an activity that has no age-limits.  For babies or younger children, start by telling them stories.  Make up fictional stories, recall stories about your childhood, or bring up happy family memories.  If it’s hard to get your creative juices flowing, use the basic storyline of a fairytale or other classic story and tweak it.  Change the setting.  Add in family members and your child – kids love when stories are about them!  Have your toddler or preschooler take a turn adding to your story- and answering basic questions about who the story should be about, where it should take place, and what should happen.  Encourage grade school-age children to tell stories on their own or recall their favorite parts of the day or other memories. Adolescents should be able to tell more elaborate and detailed stories that interest them.

11) You can do it anywhere.  At the children’s area in my local library, my preschool son’s favorite spot is the puppet theater where he enjoys making up stories for me and anyone who will listen.  In reality, storytelling can take place in any setting.  You can use it to pass the time in a waiting room, during road-trips, or part of your daily routine – such as at bedtime.  My husband has made storytelling part of his goodnight ritual with our kids.  Their favorites are the silly stories from his childhood, such as the one where Uncle Steve wandered off and was eventually found in his diaper eating dandelions.

10) It’s free. It doesn’t require any materials or any museum memberships, just human interaction and an imagination.

9)  It doesn’t require advanced planning or talent.  Inspiration from stories can come from anywhere – memories of your childhood, family traditions, recent books or films you’ve shared with your child, etc.

8) Any member of the family can participate.  It’s a great way for children to connect with extended family members or family from a different generation.  My father-in-law, “Poppy,” loves to relive his “glory days” of playing basketball in college and his memories of great-grandparents with his grandchildren.  And they love to listen and ask lots of questions.

7) It’s a great way to introduce or practice key narrative concepts.  For younger children, you can emphasize the importance of having a beginning, middle, and end.  For grade-school kids, you can discuss literary elements, such as lead characters (e.g., protagonist, antagonist), settings, plot, and theme. With older children and adolescents, you can bring up more advanced literary techniques, such as metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, etc.  It may be kind of fun to dig out some of that knowledge you have stored in your brain from your high school English class.

6) For budding artists or children who thrive on tactile or hands-on activities, it’s easy to incorporate art (sketching, drawing, coloring, painting, etc.), crafts, and use of puppets, dolls, stuffed animals or action figures into storytelling.

5) For active children who have difficulty maintaining focus or sitting still, you can involve physical movements and encourage acting out the story to accompany verbal story-telling.

4) Storytelling promotes sustained attention and higher-order executive functioning skills, including working memory (keeping information in mind while doing something with it), mental shifting, planning, and organization.

3) It encourages language development, including verbal expression, vocabulary, sentence syntax, and listening comprehension.  When you tell your child a story, break periodically and ask them questions to gage their attention, interest, and understanding.  When your child tells a story, help them build upon it by asking who, what, where, why, and how questions to encourage descriptive language and critical thinking.

2) It’s a great way to share life lessons, moral values, and family/spiritual/religious beliefs in a way that your child can relate to, appreciate, and more effectively remember over time.

1) Storytelling is a great way to spend quality time with your child.  In this fast-paced world full of electronic gadgets and deadlines, one simple yet profound thing you can do for your children is to give them your undivided attention. Listen to them, make them feel worthwhile, and tell them a story.