Family stories (the building blocks of a family history) are beneficial to kids for many reasons. In addition to helping their self-esteem, providing a sense of belonging, and keeping entitlement in check, family stories help kids cope. The world around us is a wonderful place that can be difficult at the same time. Kids have to cope with stresses that just didn’t exist 20 years ago. Researchers have found that one of the best sources of strength and resilience for kids is knowing their family history.
Do You Know?
At Emory University, two psychologists developed a “Do You Know” scale to measure how much kids knew about their family. Questions included such things as “Do you know how your parents met?” and “Do you know where your parents went to school?”
The study concluded that teenagers who knew their family stories showed “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement.” The research showed that family stories provide a sense of identity and help kids understand who they are and where they belong. This leads to greater coping skills when kids are faced with problems, upsets, and disappointments.
Other research backs up these findings. Bruce Feiler’s concludes:
The most important thing you can do may be the easiest of all. Tell your children the story of their family. Children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives – both their ups and their downs – have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Researchers have found that knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.
A Real Application
When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, her doctors gave her 3-5 years. Even with aggressive chemotherapy treatments, she passed away seven months later, having just begun the second round of chemo. My little niece was a few months away from her second birthday at the time. My brother and sister-in-law (her parents) mourned not only the loss of my mom but the loss of their little girl’s grandma. They were saddened that my niece would never really get to know her grandma.
Based mostly on my brother and sister-in-law’s concerns, I decided to create a board book for my niece about my mom. The book, I thought, would give her a way to get to know her grandma. I have to say, it was pretty hard to try to write about my mom’s life in toddler language. I didn’t know how exactly to summarize such a full and productive life. Finally, the thought came to me that I could write the book with a “what Grandma loved” theme.
I wrote about the things that my mom loved doing, things she was passionate about, and things she adored. Of course, one of the things she loved the very most was her grandchildren. On that page, I added photos of my niece with my mom as well as photos of my niece with her other cousins–people she DOES remember. My mom still loves my niece from heaven, and that’s so important for my niece to remember.
The Sweet Result
It’s been over a year now since I gave my niece the “Grandma Loves Me” book. You may remember me sharing this book on a #familyhistoryfriday in June at the Healing From Grief Through Family Stories post. I recently found out firsthand the impact this little book had.
A few months ago, I was visiting my brother and sister-in-law. My niece gave me the grand tour of her house. As I stood at the doorway to her bedroom, she ran in front of me to grab the book she had spotted on her bed. She yelled excitedly, “That’s my grommaw in heaven!!” She was so thrilled to be able to introduce me to her Grandma in heaven! I sat on her bed while she climbed into my lap so we could read “Grandma Loves Me.” She’s three years old and doesn’t realize that I made the book, or that she was telling me about my own mother. I was overcome. This little girl knows her grommaw in heaven, and she knows she is loved from heaven.
Family Stories Help Us All
Although my niece was too young to have to really cope with the loss of her grandma like the rest of our family, family stories help us all. Connecting with our history, our family, and our stories provides strength and coping skills because we know we belong. Some day, my niece will wish she remembered my mom. She will wish she had more time with her grandma. But she knows her grandma, and they are connected, because she knows stories about her grandma.
Take some time to tell family stories, and then take some time to record them so they’re accessible and not forgotten. The stresses kids go through every day make them need their family connections more than ever. Tell family stories is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, things we can do for our kids. If you’re like me, you might not feel like you get much right as a parent, but trust me: If you’re telling family stories, you can be certain you’re doing at least one thing right.
- Feiler, Bruce. (2013). NPR Books. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/02/17/171929472/control-the-chaos-with-secrets-of-happy-families
- Fivush, Robyn. (2016). Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories
- Kurylo-Emory, Beth. (2010). Futurity. Retrieved from http://www.futurity.org/knowing-their-family-history-helps-kids-cope/