“Do you have any more stories?” they say.
I’d already told them about how my husband and I met; I’d told them about the first time he said I love you.
(“Why were you at a park at night?” they ask. “Because you can do awesome stuff like that when you’re in college,” I answer.)
So I launched into the story of how he proposed. The table set with two dozen white roses, the private, catered dinner, and the juice boxes to remind us of our first date. The pond and the mountains, the candles and the outdoor sound system playing our song. The one knee and sparkly ring.
The messy, happy, mind-blown “yes!”
“Do you have any more stories?” they say again.
Our eggs are cold. The baby is trying (mostly successfully) to wiggle her way out of her high chair.
It’s time to move on. To trade stories for reminders to rinse their plates.
But for the rest of the day, I can’t stop picturing their riveted little faces. Or how their chests puff up when I talk to them like peers.
I can see myself as a little girl, pencil in hand, telling my dad to talk slower, so I could write his story down.
For the rest of the day, I think of how much I’m really teaching my kids when I simply use my voice.
5 Things Our Kids Gain from Story:
With story we share the narratives that weave our lives together, that connect us with family members past and present—and our kids can keep that family identity forever.
Studies have found that telling children about challenges your family has faced will help them mitigate the effects of stress and develop resilience. Stories of your family overcoming hard times will help them believe that they can do the same. Bruce Feiler says:
“When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.”
To help your children believe in their ability to overcome hard stuff, tell them stories of people who have.
3. A glimpse of the soul
I first heard this concept from David Isay, founder of StoryCorps and author of Listening Is An Act of Love, and I’ve thought about it so much ever since. If you think of a loved one who is gone, photos are special, but what would any of us give to sit and listen to their voice again. There’s just something magic—mesmerizing—about the human voice.
Telling stories that we care about gives our kids the chance to really hear us. It’s different than the voice they so often hear… “Don’t forget to clear your plate!”
4. Practice developing a gift—the art of listening
It’s a gift, the ability to listen to understand instead of listening to respond. (As Stephen Covey would say.) Opening our mouths gives our kids the chance to get lost in a story. To listen for the sake of listening, instead of listening with the quiet motive of eventually being heard.
5. The ability to command attention
The other day, my husband and I were listening to a nonfiction audiobook and found ourselves losing interest halfway through each chapter. When I thought about it, I realized that each chapter started with a story, which eventually gave way to studies and stats. The story captivated us. The supporting research? Not so much.
“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” Jonathan Gottschall
The human brain is wired for story. It’s the reason the most effective speeches are filled with inspiring, real-life examples. It’s the reason you can catch a class of rambunctious high school students dead silent five minutes before the bell rings: their teacher is telling a story.
When you know when and how to use it, it’s a powerful tool.
Bonus Parenting Tip
If you want your kids to really hear you and internalize some kind of lesson, show them—using a story—instead of lecturing them. It’s like the old but incredibly effective writing trick: “Show, don’t tell.” Anyone can tell a kid to be honest; it takes more effort—but generates a much better outcome—to show the value of integrity with a story.
So that night, with these thoughts bouncing around in my head, the boys and I climbed into a twin-sized bed, the baby climbed (all elbows and knees) right on top of us, and I dove into the story of what it was like to swim with baby turtles in a salt water pool.
This is the kind of thing I get nerdy-curious about, so let’s hear it—Were your parents story tellers? Are you?
Beautiful lifestyle photography courtesy of Denver-based Colie James Photography