I was always a happy guy. But when an autoimmune disorder crippled me at 34, just when I had become the youngest business head in India’s telecom industry, staying happy was a tough task. But for me, this tough situation started a new journey that ultimately led to my becoming a bestselling author, a much sought-after motivational speaker, an international parenting coach, and the happiest person I have ever met. I attribute this amazing feat squarely to the parenting I had when I was a child. And within that, to the amazing array of stories, my parents told me — right from early childhood.
Storytelling is one of the fundamental strategies that is recommended by Active Parenting to proactively build traits and attributes in children that make them successful adults. The advantage of stories is that unlike a pedantic lecture by parents to build moral values, which children find boring, a story goes deep inside without any resistance. In fact, the moral, wrapped in a story, is happily taken in by the child and internalized.
Why storytelling is important?
Storytelling can serve many diverse purposes…
- It builds a warm bond between parents and children.
It keeps children immersed in a positive experience instead of getting hooked to screen time.
- It enhances concentration and focus.
- It enhances imagination and creativity.
- Stories that have qualities such as purposefulness, courage, compassion, gratitude, ownership, justice, etc. as the central theme, can help build these qualities in children.
- Humorous stories can help inculcate a sense of humor in children.
- Listening to stories improves language mastery and communication skills.
- Listening to stories increases the probability of picking up a reading habit.
- Stories widen children’s perspectives.
So at what age should parents start telling stories? And till what age should they continue? Well, ideally they should start telling stories the day the baby is born!! Research seems to indicate that parents speaking constantly to infants helps in improving their cognitive abilities. This helps in enhancing their ability to learn even as they grow up. So it doesn’t matter what stories parents spin for their infants, as long as they tell the stories with a lot of expressions and animation.
As children grow up into toddlers and then into early childhood, parents can introduce them to board books and picture books. Show them each picture and tell the story. It can be the story in the book as it is, the story with a lot of embellishments, or a totally made-up story. The idea is to use simple words, connect those to the pictures, and tell a story in an animated fashion. This helps in getting children interested in books. It also can be used as an excellent distraction for feeding little children instead of plonking them in front of a screen.
The stories can evolve into more intricate stories as children grow up. This is when parents can focus on telling stories with specific human qualities, traits, or attributes that help raise children to become successful adults. According to Active Parenting, the attributes for success are Social consciousness, Happiness, Authenticity, Resilience, and Purposefulness (SHARP). There are dozens of age-appropriate stories that help strongly build these attributes in children. But please do not restrict your stories to those with morals. Stories can be just fun.
When my two kids were about nine and six, we were staying home one day and had no other form of entertainment. I decided to cook up a story and tell them. What transpired was a storytelling session that kept them totally amazed and giggling for over an hour. It was a complete fantasy story that involved the Devil who went to the town of Aleppy to eat pizza and found that Alleppy had no jalapeno pepper and a bunch of pigs who revolted. This completely absurd story that had no morals whatsoever was the high point in my kids’ life. Even today, after 14 years, they still talk about it fondly. These pure fun stories also help enhance our sense of humour and imagination.
As children grow older and into their tweens and teens, parents can start telling them stories from their own workplace. Some of the issues they faced, how they overcame challenges, the kind of complex decision-making they had to do, etc. These stories help children become more mature and help them widen their perspectives.
What helped me in my darkest hours, when I couldn’t even hold a pen or a spoon in my hand, or couldn’t even stand up, was the stories of courage and purposefulness that my parents told us as children. What helped me keep smiling through those tough times was the series of story sessions we had with my father, when he painstakingly translated P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious stories into Malayalam and narrated them to us as kids. So remember, a story can build a thousand qualities in children.