It’s nearly impossible for children to independently imagine that the adults they love and admire were once small children. Is it true that once upon a time, Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma were little and they too had collections, talents, best-friends, and secret hide-outs?
It is true, and one simple way that we can connect with our children is by sharing stories of our own childhood with them. Storytelling has become a bedtime ritual in my family. After reading picture books and turning off the lights, I snuggle close with the boys and tell them “Little Melissa” adventure stories. Some, (like the one about the time I had tea with a gnome in the forest) are slightly embellished! Others, (like the one about the time I dumped water over my brother’s head for no reason at all) are true.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, storytelling allows children to relax, reflect, and make sense of the world around them. Without illustrations to view, they must use their own imaginations to creatively see the pictures in their mind. Colin’s vision of my stories will always “look” different from Owen’s visions because of their age-difference, life experiences, and personalities. Perhaps after storytelling, they reflect:
Mommy was little once. She does understand how frustrating it can be to not get your way or to feel sad because someone didn’t share with you . . . Mommy understands how exciting it is to travel in an airplane, and she had trouble using a quiet voice too, just like me . . . Mommy didn’t always color so neatly and cut straight lines with scissors. She practiced hard and got better.
Stories are especially important for a child like Colin. A 4-year old perfectionist by nature, he is the type of child that will burst into tears if he accidentally colors outside of the lines and it wasn’t in his plan to do so. Because he happens to adore my stories and enjoys arts & crafts (an interest that we both share), I decided that it was time to invite him to view my life-time collection of sketchbooks.
His favorite drawings weren’t my carefully detailed sketches from high-school or college. In fact, he declared that they, “were boring.” True to childhood, he loved my silly, captioned cartoons from grade school. My short stories and swirly crayon drawings of horses, family, and my childhood friends made him smile, chuckle, and even snort!
“That’s true. But, it was fun to pretend that it was. Can you imagine if you actually saw an animal that was part giraffe, part horse, part zebra, part bee, part rhino and part frog? What would you do?”
“If I saw that, I would be like, ‘Hey, you are funny! Do you eat candy canes?’ I would want you to take a picture of it too, so that we could remember it.” Suddenly, quite seriously, he pointed to a drawing of a horse. “If you give me that drawing, I will color it in to make it look more pretty. It looks real, but it’s boring. I like the funny ones better. I wish I could draw a real horse like that.”
“Mistakes help us learn. I make mistakes everyday. Today, I accidentally put our clean clothes in the laundry basket that had the dirty clothes! They are all mixed up!”
“And today I spilled my Cheerios, but I picked them up.”
Sharing snapshots of who you were as a child makes your children feel closer to you and can serve as a valuable teaching tool.
- Stories should be simple, positive, and age appropriate.
- If your memories are darkened by abuse or neglect, refrain from sharing them. Avoid making up stories with scary characters (a minor conflict between a generic “good guy” and “bad guy” is okay), but keep the flesh-eating zombies out of your child’s bedtime stories.
- Do share stories about times that you overcame obstacles, and stories in which you made a “sad choice.” Ask your child, “What could I have done instead? If you were me, what would you have done?”
- Share your favorite childhood photographs, drawings, toys, blankets/stuffed animals, books, and collections with your child. To increase connection, play on their interests. Right now, Colin and Owen simply won’t care about my 1989 collection of New Kids on the Block extra-large buttons (maybe they will someday, when they are into music – they can tease me for being so lame!), but they love the old Legos that my brothers and I enjoyed as children.