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What Kids Learn From Hearing Family Stories

The Atlantic (Washington, DC) , December 2013

Summary:

Most parents know about the benefits of reading stories from books with their young children. Yet what most parents don’t know is that everyday family stories confer many of the same benefits of reading–and even some new ones. Over the last 25 years, a small canon of research on family storytelling shows that when parents share more family stories with their children—especially when they tell those stories in a detailed and responsive way—their children benefit in a host of ways.

  • For instance, experimental studies show that when parents learn to reminisce about everyday events with their preschool children in more detailed ways, their children tell richer, more complete narratives to other adults one to two years later compared to children whose parents didn’t learn the new reminiscing techniques.

  • Children of the parents who learned new ways to reminisce also demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. These advanced narrative and emotional skills serve children well in the school years when reading complex material and learning to get along with others.

  • In the preteen years, children whose families collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history more often have higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts.

  • And adolescents with a stronger knowledge of family history have more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. Family storytelling can help a child grow into a teen who feels connected to the important people in her life.

Family stories can be told nearly anywhere. They cost us only our time, our memories, our creativity. They can inspire us, protect us, and bind us to others. So be generous with your stories, and be generous in your stories. Remember that your children may have them for a lifetime.

Subjects Covered: education, personal storytelling


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