Family stories in general have an amazing effect on self-esteem. They provide a sense of belonging and purpose. In addition, stories and messages given specifically to one person can be a sweet boost of confidence and a dose of self-assurance and worth. This is especially true for children and teenagers who are still developing a sense of self, but it’s equally true for adults, too.
Self-Esteem through Family Stories
We all know that reading to children is important. Reading is more important than we might guess for adults, too. Adults who read literary fiction have been shown to have an increased capacity to understand the emotions of others. So reading and stories benefit us all in a number of ways. But what is the difference, really, between a regular story and a family story?
Books contain narratives, but only family stories contain your family’s personal narratives. Fortunate children get both. They hear and read stories from books to become part of other people’s worlds, and they hear and tell stories of their family to understand who they are and from whence they came. ~Elaine Reese
As mentioned in previous #familyhistoryfriday posts, children benefit from knowing family stories and family history in numerous ways, including:
- an increase in self-esteem and a sense of belonging
- greater resilience
- a feeling of belonging to something greater than themselves
- a decrease in anxiety, depression, and aggression
In recent weeks we’ve looked at how to create family stories as well as some creative ways to do it. These are great ways to instill that sense of belonging. Learning how their grandparents met, where a family tradition came from, or a situation that their predecessors learned from really impacts children and families.
What Family Stories Do
Family storytelling isn’t the same as just talking about what you did today. It’s a deeper look at where you came from and what makes you (or your child) an integral part of your family.
When I think about stories I heard growing up, I can see both connections and lessons in them. Because of distance, my dad first met my mom’s parents at Christmas, the week before they were going to be married. And somewhere in the middle of trying to impress her soon-to-be son-in-law, my grandmother lost her balance and fell into the Christmas tree. When I hear that story, I can hear her laugh– even though I wasn’t born at the time and even though she’s been gone for more than 20 years. It’s a funny story anyway, but when I hear this story it reminds me that it’s not only okay but necessary to laugh at yourself sometimes. For someone who isn’t inherently very good at that, it’s a great lesson to me.
“Stories pass on life lessons, instilling a sense of capability. And the shared history and time taken to tell stories also fills the need to connect.” ~M. Duke and R. Fivush
Self-Esteem through Personal Messages
In addition to connecting with your roots, another way to raise someone’s self-esteem is through personal messages. Supporting a child through encouraging words, listening, and being there for important moments certainly raise self-esteem. However, think about how often you forget something that was said. My mother was a big believer in the written word. I remember her saying on more than one occasion, “You can’t re-read a phone call.”
When my sister-in-law graduated from nursing school, I wanted to give her a gift of congratulations. A gift card to a restaurant just didn’t seem like enough. It didn’t convey how proud we were of her, knowing the struggles she had overcome along the way and how very hard she had worked. So for the same price as a gift card to a restaurant, I created a little book of messages for her. With her mom’s help, I collected pictures of her growing up. I asked each family member to write a little message about how proud they were of her for this accomplishment. It was so much more meaningful than anything else we could have done for her. In addition, it’s something she still has ten years later and can look back at again and again– unlike a gift card, flowers, or a phone call.
Meaningful for Years to Come
Taking time to write down personal messages to a loved one can be powerful and meaningful for years to come. I think this is especially true for teenagers as they navigate peer pressure, popularity, and the path of learning who they are. When my oldest son was around 13 or 14, I wanted to remind him of the great things I could see in him. I decided to make a little book for him based on that quote by Neil Gaiman. The book is called “Only You” and lists his talents, gifts, and capabilities, along with a few inspirational quotes like this one:
Don’t be jealous of anyone. I guarantee you, if everyone walked into a room and dumped their problems onto the floor, when they saw what everyone else’s problems were, they’d be scrambling to get their own problems back before someone else got to them first. ~Kim Gruenenfelder
This “Only You” book is now a tradition, something I give to each of my children during middle school or early high school years. It’s a meaningful, beautiful, inexpensive way to tell them the things I want them to know and remember about who they are.
Making a Difference
Family stories are free! Sharing a funny, inspirational, or historical family story is within almost everyone’s reach. It doesn’t require a special talent, just the ability and willingness to remember and share. Making the effort to tell and preserve family stories will bless you, your children, and your grandchildren in ways you may not even realize.
What could you do to build someone’s self-esteem? Who needs to hear your family stories and personal messages today?
- Kidd, David Comer. (2013). Science. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377
- Muller, Robert T. (2015). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-about-trauma/201503/family-storytelling-good-children-and-parents
- Reese, Elaine. (2013). The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/