Of all the tips in this series on raising kids who care, this one is the most fun. The purpose of this tip is to bestow upon you, the parent, permission to share your personal stories with your children.
A disclaimer is necessary. Do not share your stories of misbehaving beyond the commonplace classroom disobedience. You can keep quiet about those. But your personal stories of success and failure that have helped form your values—share these liberally.
I’d like to highlight two reasons why sharing your stories will help your kids grow into people who care. First, you’ll help your kids, in time, mature out of the “world revolves around me” mentality simply by sharing your life with them and giving them insight into another human being. As I explained in a previous tip, you are the first person in your child’s life to teach him or her how to live relationally. In a healthy relationship, there is two-way communication, which means sharing and listening. Yes, listening is most important, but when you relay lessons learned from your childhood experiences or humorous accounts of present-day life at the office, for example, you will no doubt strengthen your kids’ ability to empathize.
Secondly, when you merely tell a kid what to do, how to act, or what is important in life, there’s a good chance it’s not going to stick. But if you have a story behind it, your words of wisdom will have impact. My friend Susan has a family rule to never quarrel around the dinner table. Her story for teaching this rule is poignant: the first fight she and her spouse had at dinnertime landed her in the emergency room because she choked on a carrot that lodged in her esophagus and couldn’t get it out! She tells this story with a great deal of expression and, believe me, I will remember it.
Granted you won’t have a story for everything you want to teach, but you can leverage your friends’ stories, as I just did, and also share current events that demonstrate faith, perseverance, and honor, such as the rescue of the Chilean miners. And don’t forget to share stories from your family heritage.
Do you know the stories—specifically the “hero” stories—of your good friends and relatives? If not, ask for them and enjoy the entertainment that follows! One day I was telling my kids about the heroic deeds of their great-grandfather, when my father-in-law, Grandpa George, knocked on the door. So I asked him, “Do you have any hero stories to tell your grandkids?” Without missing a beat, George explained that, not too long ago, he saw a car on fire by the side of the road. He pulled over and discovered a stunned lady in the driver’s seat. Since the door was jammed, he tugged her out of the broken window. As soon as he got her safely into his own car, her car exploded! Wow, this inspiring story had almost gone untold!
Like all the tips, you’ll get better with practice. Try it and watch how well your children respond!
By Gail Perry Johnston. For more by Gail Perry Johnston, visit www.gailperryjohnston.com. See her books at www.cupolapress.com.