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How Storytelling Changed My Parenting

How Storytelling Changed My Parenting “How full is your story tank?” Bella snuggles up next to me on the couch and watches my hands. I open them lengthwise, and her eyes widen.

“Yes? Full? Will you tell me a story?”

When I was young, I spent hours telling my little brothers and sister stories. At night we’d giggle and imagine until we were told it really was time to go to sleep. I’d weave together ideas where children grew into giants, restaurants that left food on the table as a reminder of famous people who ate there, houses that were built upside down (thank you Mrs. Piggle Wiggle), animals that learned life lessons, and children who lived on their own in the world.

As a nanny and then teacher, I did the same. No matter the age – 11 or 4 – I always had a story. Some would go on for a year or longer, the kids begging after school to know what had happened. I’d have the parents ask if I “made them up on my own” and I’d nod. I just liked to tell stories. It passed the time, delighted the kids, and introduced them to an entire world they had to use their imaginations for.

Nearly a year ago to the day, I started to tell Bella stories. It was a wonderful thing for me – sick and pregnant – to be able to do with her to pass the time. As our life became crazy and messy, I forgot about all of that with her.

A few weeks ago, I suddenly remembered storytelling again. Then when she asked for another, I wasn’t sure how to tell her I couldn’t just come up with story after story. I had to have some time in between.

So we came up with a story tank. The story tank is, of course, invisible. But as time passes, it fills up. Remembering to obey and be polite helps it to fill quicker. Rude behavior and tantrums means it takes longer to fill for another story. It’s as if I figured out the secret to Bella’s 4-year-old tantrums. She starts to throw a fit, and I open my hands to show her the storytelling tank size. Call it bribing, but I see it as similar to a reward chart. Only free.

My stories aren’t anything fancy or hard to do. They’re simple ideas that kids relate to. Sometimes I’ll throw in a little lesson on what I’m working with her on, like being kind to our pets or remembering to wash our hands. When the lesson is a story about a child who didn’t wash and eventually couldn’t find his hands under the food and dirt, it’s more effective than me yelling for the 1,953rd time about how she needs to wash up.

I get her involved too — asking her about names, what happens next, using her stuffed animals. I’m hoping that this helps her transfer well from picture books to novels one day as well.

Storytelling is becoming a part of our lives now. A part of me I’ve shared with others since childhood, is now passed on to her childhood. That’s pretty special.

 

Diana blogs at Diana Wrote about her life with a daughter here and three sons in heaven, life as an army wife, and her faith. You can also find her work on Liberating Working MomsShe Reads TruthStill Standing MagazineThe New York Times, and The Huffington Post, with smaller glimpses into her day on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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