Stories have their own special ability to build shared meaning, values, and direction for our families. Often we don't realize how these stories influence our behavior and shape the future; but stories about our national, cultural, or family history have shaped much of how we’ve come to view ourselves.

One of the reasons that stories are a great way to influence the way our children think and behave is because they like to hear them over and over again. This repetition, combined with their imaginations and the power of a parent or other caring adult’s presence, makes stories one of the best ways to influence their thoughts and behaviors.

Psychologists have been telling us about the positive benefits of reading and telling children stories for years. Since stories can show children how people realistically solve their problems, they can learn to think more effectively about solving their own problems. We can help our children build the courage they need to face and overcome their fears. Children love to be the main character in the stories we tell them, so tell them stories about how they persevered, tried different options, and finally found a solution to their problem. Be authentic and reflect what has actually happened in the past and is happening now in the present. Then tell how they achieved their desired future. Shaping a can-do narrative creates a sense of possibility, confidence, and hope.

Storytelling can be as simple as reading a story from a book. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can always share a story from memory, talk about your own childhood, or even read out loud from your phone. There are so many advantages of storytelling for kids, especially for preschoolers, kindergarten, and elementary school children. By telling your child stories that come with a meaningful message, you can begin to instill qualities like wisdom, courage, honesty, etc. from an early age into your little ones.

Besides all of the character building benefits of storytelling, reading stories to children helps build their vocabulary base by exposing them to new words and phrases. It increases their attention span and opens their minds to new ideas and concepts. Having them repeat the stories back to you will increase their memory capacity and encourage concentration.

Being good listeners to our children builds trust and engagement. Share with them the signs of growth and accomplishment you’re noticing in them to increase their confidence that they’re on the right path. A shared positive narrative in your family can be one of the most important factors in creating a future of success and satisfaction. Our lives are busy and filled with many technological gadgets, but we need to keep the art of storytelling alive. Stories play a crucial role in developing our children’s overall personalities. The stories we tell our children about our family and the roles we play in the world will drive their mindsets, attitudes, actions, and behaviors toward a bright future.

Kris Pate is Executive Director of the United Way of La Porte County. 

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