I once heard someone say “all we really have to share with each other are our stories.” Since hearing that statement, I’ve reflected upon it quite a bit. Sharing your full life story with another person takes willing vulnerability. It is a powerful act. At every age, we learn through stories. They teach us core life lessons – values, why people act the way they do, the importance of character. They appeal to both sides of our brain and help our mind work in an integrated way. They stick with us and help us remember the facts of a given situation, as well as the way we felt at the time. It is no coincidence that stories fill the air at family reunions, as the older generation reminisces and somewhat unwittingly passes along to the next generation the essence of what it means to be part of this family.
Story telling is often something we do as parents without giving it much thought. We read stories to our children. We ask children to tell us the story of their day. We can help children develop emotional intelligence by discussing feelings, both their own feelings and the feelings of characters in a story, and linking those feelings to concrete bodily sensations as well as actions. We can engage in imaginative play with our children, giving toys voices, characters, and dialogue.
Mutual story telling can be mutually fulfilling in a parent-child relationship. It’s as simple as taking turns making up sentences. Here’s a sample dialogue:
Dad: “There was a tiger walking through the forest…”
Child: “…and he was friends with a dog.”
Dad: “And the dog had stripes like the tiger…”
Or it could be a little less nonsensical than the above sample, and more focused on emotional content, such as:
Dad: “There was a little girl who lived in a blue house…”
Child: “And she loved her pet dog.”
Dad: “Yes, her dog made her very happy. What other things made her happy?”
Child: “Swimming, riding her bike, and ice cream.”
Dad: “And what things made her sad?”
Give it a try! You may find that you love the “dance” of engaging in mutual story telling with your child.
Contributed by Heather Colby, M.S., LCSW