Influencing others with good habits is both easy and challenging when it comes to children. Easy, because children build habits fast, but challenging because it’s difficult to get them in the process of building habits. One of my hopes for 2023 is to help my 8yo become a better storyteller.
Often I start off by explaining the importance of storytelling and how some of the most famous people are good storytellers. Mind how I don’t say “successful” here as that is a very subjective metric. Who can tell what success is? But he will figure out if he does the math later in life. Those conversations are difficult. He is not into it. Only a few children can explain a situation in a narrative form that is easy to be understood by grown-ups. Imagine, a situation at school or daycare that you want to know more about. You ask, tell me what happened. They start by throwing facts, points in time, and arguments that you have to connect one by one and suggest the final version to them:
“Ah, so Marry got hurt because she was jumping on the bed instead of eating her lunch?”
This type of conversation and summary is ok for 5-year-olds. But the older our children get, it should be directed, we need to intervene and explain the necessity to start by giving context, so that we understand what they talk about, then talk about the main event, so that it’s fun for us, and explain their expectation of what should have happened, as then we understand their feelings about this event.
The event 🔗
So what to talk about? What story would you expect your children to tell you? A good story always starts with a simple question: “Tell me, what happened today?” (at school, daycare, work, etc.). Often, the answers can be close-ended (I guess it depends on the character), but some children don’t want to talk about school. Especially those whose parents learn that their math test is the other day. But you can support there, as often the fact that they don’t want to talk about it has some background (nothing major, it could be something as simple as their opinion on the events that happened). Give direction.
“How was school today?”
“Something interesting happened?”
“Well, something must have. Pick one event and tell me about it..”
And the conversation can start. Now you have an event to talk about.
The context 🔗
At the point where a child starts telling about their day, you can interrupt and ask for context. That could be tricky, as you don’t just do the usual business language of “context please?" to a child. Ask for clarification. For example:
“Phil was crying during math class today”.
“Something happened with the teacher?”
“What happened to Phil?”
“His toy got lost during the break before math”
“How did the toy get lost?”
“He was burying it in the sandpit and at some point, it got lost”
The chance is, this conversation will get interesting for you. Get the conversation flowing in that direction. Make sure to make it interesting for yourself.
Once you have the context you can explore the main topic.
Main Theme 🔗
The difference between the context and the main theme is that the context gives you clues on what led to the event, and the main theme is how the story unfolds afterward. The event is “Phil was crying during math today”, the context is “he lost it somewhere in the sand” and during the main theme you will need to find out what happened after that. And as in the previous cases, you can ask questions, that will reveal that easily.
And this is where it’s important to ask open-ended questions. Asking:
“How did the students react?”
“Did someone support him?”
“What did the teacher say?”
Brings the risk of gettings answers like “No” or “She did nothing”. Instead, ask for their opinion on the topic and take it from there:
“Did someone do something about it?”
This will have a wider field for discussion and it will make it more difficult for them to give a short answer. They will feel challenged to give a yes/no answer, as that will make them feel as if they are not closing the loop.
So: context → short yes/no questions, main theme → open-ended questions.
Their opinion 🔗
As a conclusion, give your child a chance to give their opinion about the event. It could be surprising to hear that. Try not to influence it. Ask what they think about it and how that event made them feel.
Just keep it short and don’t push. This can be free-style for the child as this is their own and personal conclusion about the story.
If you liked this story, wait to read the next one: How to help your child give context to a story by answering three simple questions.