An expert trainer in leadership and storytelling techniques, Paul Smith has found that stories are not only a powerful tool for engaging and motivating employees. A dedicated father of two, Paul routinely relies on stories to help his sons find solutions to challenges, from bouncing back from failure to dealing with bullies, and develop important character traits. You don’t have to be an accomplished professional storyteller to tap into the power of stories to teach, inspire, and shape your child. As Paul shows in his new book, PARENTING WITH A STORY (AMACOM; November 2014), using stories is easy—once you overcome the three biggest barriers.
How to Overcome the Three Biggest Barriers to Using Stories to Teach and Inspire Your Children
Barrier #1: I don’t have any good stories to tell.
Yes, you do! There are great stories buried in your past; you just have to dig a bit. As Paul learned through interviewing hundreds of people, “You don’t find someone’s best stories by asking them to tell you their best stories. That’s because we don’t think of the most inspiring, insightful, and meaningful moments in our lives as ‘stories.’ We think of them as events.” Tip: To unearth those events, schedule an interview with yourself. Ask yourself questions about specific moments in your life. Here are a few to get you started:
- Can you remember a time as a child when you did something you had been told not to do and you did it anyway? How did it turn out? Do you wish you had obeyed and hadn’t done it? Or are you glad you did it?
- What are the three smartest decisions you’ve ever made?
- What stories do you remember hearing as a child that taught you so valuable a lesson you still remember them to this day?
That question leads directly to the richest source of stories: the stories you hear other people tell. “When you hear a great story with an insightful lesson,” Paul suggests, “instead of just enjoying it and letting it pass from your conscience, make a note of it. Maybe even write it down.”
Barrier #2: I’m not sure when to tell these stories.
For younger kids, bedtime is a great time for stories. Instead of reading them from a children’s book with illustrations, tell your own. While kids today have overscheduled lives, you might try reinstating the dinner storytelling routine—perhaps on a Sunday. However, as Paul states, “The best time to share stories isn’t at a scheduled time and place. It’s more opportunistically, the moment they’re needed.” Start telling stories regularly in the course of your parenting.
Barrier #3: I don’t know how to tell stories very well.
Don’t stress out about flubbing your lines. Don’t attempt to ‘perform’ stories like a professional storyteller, taking on voices for each character. And don’t strive to memorize stories, word for word, and faithfully repeat them. Instead, once you’ve written down a story you want to tell, read it through two or three times to yourself until you generally understand what happens. Then imagine that it actually happened, a few moments ago, and you were an eyewitness. Then, tell it like just you saw and experienced it. “You’re just telling a story to the people who love you,” Paul reminds parents, grandparents, and other significant adults in a young person’s life. “The best advice I can give you is just to tell these stories like you were talking to your best friend. If you do it right, someday they will be.”
Adapted from PARENTING WITH A STORY: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share by Paul Smith (AMACOM; November 2014; $16.00 Paperback; 978-0-8144-3357-7).
Do you use stories to help teach and inspire your children? Do you think you will give it a try?