Ideas.For.100 Days Of.School Boy Being.100 Years Old The Power of Storytelling

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The Power of Storytelling

Remember the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glenda the Good Witch asks Dorothy what she learned on her journey. Dorothy says, “I guess I’ve learned that when you want and want your heart’s desire and can’t find it, then maybe it’s in your own backyard and you’ve really lost it to begin with.”

Ideas that many parents want their children to embrace—ideas like cooperation, kindness, or honesty—can be the most challenging concepts for parents. In the blink of an eye, the youngsters notice the lecture and quickly mentally retreat, leaving behind a black expression that almost every parent recognizes with a sigh.

Fortunately, “in their own backyard,” parents already have a strategy fully capable of effectively communicating these messages to willing and open ears. I invite you to rediscover the secret weapon you’ve always had – and to which young people have always responded – the Story.

An Ancient Treasure

In these days of “virtual-this” and “electronic-that,” there are those who might relegate storytelling to the dusty realm of yesteryear. Yet storytelling remains strongly rooted in our human cultural experience after all these years. We see it on the surface in many forms. From the sales pitches of the advertisers, through the speeches of the public figures, to the fiery promise of the broadcaster for “More about that story after our commercial…”

Among children, however, storytelling has an even stronger and deeper magic. Indeed, children seem to demand stories with the same insistence that they crave attention or food!

Transfixed by Stories

Parents around the world will testify to the phenomenon that is children and stories. The magical opening, “Once upon a time…” or “Many years ago…” will focus young eyes that were just aimlessly chasing the ceiling. Random event openers like, “Here’s a story I heard today, you might like…” or “Did you hear a story about…?” bring dangling and impatient feet to freeze mid-swing. A child engrossed in the travels of a stray fruit fly directs his full attention to the storyteller. The feeling of concentration is palpable.

As a scout leader, I once transported a caravan full of shockingly rambunctious 6-year-old Brownies. I stopped the car three times to reprimand the miscreants for fighting, yelling, throwing, hitting. All for nothing. In doubt, I put in a CD with fairy tales. In a moment, the whole train became silent. The would-be hooligans remained completely calm until the end of the story, after which they almost immediately fell back into mischief. The next story began and, once again, silence replaced bedlam.

Why do stories capture children’s attention? First, the story pattern (beginning-middle-end) sets a structure that children recognize and understand. The ending will surely be satisfying – the triumph of the youngest of three children, tackling impossible tasks, the glory of a broken romance. Such popular themes in fairy tales demonstrate to children, as Bruno Bettleheim says in his classic study Use of Enchantment“that the struggle against difficult difficulties in life is inevitable”, but that if he encounters difficulties, he will “overcome all obstacles and emerge victorious in the end”.

Indeed, children seem to respond well to any story that offers magic or fantasy, perhaps because, being young, they themselves live closer to the outer worlds of magic and fantasy. When my older daughter was 4½ years old, she started the morning with a small hole in her pants that by the end of the day exposed most of her knee. “That hole is getting so big,” I warned her, “you’ll soon fall right into it.” “Are you kidding!” she said with a chuckle and then looked straight at me – “right?” As children enter elementary school, their personal sense of time and place sharpens, but the world of magic and the land of stories beckons to the limits.

Contemporary stories from modern life can also capture powerful claims in a child’s heart when the story involves the child, family members, friends, or other people the child knows. Openings like, “Did I tell you the story about your wild grandfather Louis, who threw the whole town into a panic when…” or “I’ll never forget what happened when you were just learning to walk and…” also grab attention. child because of the personalized nature of the story.

Add to all the factors the experience of listening to a story – that is, the narrator’s voice, the impact of direct eye contact, the entertaining quality of hand gestures, facial expressions, ad-libs and dramatic reactions to story events, and it is not surprising that children are captivated by stories.

The clear fact that stories reliably hold children’s attention creates a unique and meaningful opportunity for parents. While children often respond reluctantly, if not outright rebelliously, to direct parental instructions about how to behave, those same children will accept and absorb the same ideas when woven through a story.

As a parent, which scenario do you prefer? Associate the instructions with the child whose expression dares: “Whatever-you’re-selling-I’m-not-buying-it!” Or offer the same instructions to a child whose expression says, “Really? Tell me more. Right now.”

While we can agree that stories are a powerful channel, it is also clear that stories alone do not necessarily convey positive messages. In fact, stories can and often do convey negative messages just as easily. Imagine that a story is a form of transportation, a kind of express vehicle. Its contents may be fresh crisp apples, or its contents may be a box of explosives. The content loaded into the storytelling express at the start of its journey will determine what is received at its destination. As a parent, your role is to load valuable messages into your storytelling express and send it to its destination – your child’s heart.

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