Family stories a special holiday gift for kids

Research shows family storytelling benefits young children and teens

Contact Laura Froyen, 608-263-4294, froyen@wisc.edu

Research shows that sharing family stories may be as beneficial to children as reading to them; in fact, storytelling may even provide additional bonuses.

“When parents tell detailed family stories to their children, kids tend to view their family as stronger and have higher self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety or nervousness, and fewer behavioral problems,” says Laura Froyen, an early parenting specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. “Kids whose families regularly tell family stories tend to be better storytellers themselves, which can positively influence school performance.”

There is no better time to begin a tradition of family storytelling than the holidays, according to Froyen. “Often holidays stand out in our minds when time has faded other memories. Families can draw on holiday memories not only to cement family values and traditions, but to connect children with their family’s past,” she says. “At the holidays, stories can serve as a chance to reconnect with more distant family members and to show how important each family member is.”

Tweens and teens whose parents engage in storytelling have a deeper understanding of their family history, and as a result, feel more secure in their own identity. These teenagers also tend to have better coping skills and feel less anxious and depressed.

Froyen points out that not every story needs to be completely positive. Stories can be a great way to teach and to show that everyone makes mistakes. “Just be sure to make the lesson of the story clear for young children,” says Froyen.

Froyen says she found many lessons in stories told to her by her parents. “I still like hearing them as an adult, especially now that I’m a parent,” she says. “This is one of the great things about stories–you can tell the same one over and over, and still find something new, as both the teller  and the listener.”

If family storytelling is new to you, Froyen suggests some activities to get started:

  • Put everyone’s names in a hat and then have each family member draw a name and tell a story involving that person.
  • Instead of asking what everyone is grateful for at Thanksgiving, ask each person to describe a memory that they are grateful to have, or a lesson they are grateful to have learned.
  • Have everyone tell the story of the best gift (birthday, holiday–it doesn’t matter) that they’ve received. Be sure to encourage details like how they felt waiting for the gift, when they realized what it was, who gave it, how they thanked the person who gave the gift, etc. Parents and children alike may be surprised by the answers!
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