Telling stories to our children

The mother of a four-year-old recently commented on how much her daughter loved hearing stories about “when Mommy was Four.” So much does this little girl love those stories that the mother has started making them up. She just can’t remember enough real material from such a long time ago!

It made me think about telling stories to our children and how we do that and how the stories change as our children grow.

I think one of the first stories we tell a baby is the Suspense Story: “And… now… I’m… going…. to… blowonyourtummy!” I remember telling that one as early as a few weeks into my baby’s life. Soon after that, a variation on the Suspense Story is “Peek-a-Boo!” You have a scarf over your face and you’re saying: “Where is Mommy?” “Here she is!” Really safe, but mildly exciting little surprises, tension … followed by relief.

A story we told often as a little “micro drama” was the “I’m going to bite you” story. With the baby watching, I would open my mouth wide and pretend that I was going to bite my husband Randy, and he would say, seriously: “No Biting!” I would look thoughtful and repeat “No biting?” We acted this one out a lot when the six-month-old was biting (or pinching, or hair pulling.) It was a way of “discussing” the problem of biting at times when it wasn’t actually happening. The baby always looked interested (or amused) and thoughtful. I think it helped the baby process the idea of the no-biting rule.

A sure-fire way to put an older baby to sleep is to tell the story of her day in a sing-song voice. “This morning Josephine got up and put on her yellow jumpsuit. She had oatmeal with her Mommy and then her Daddy took her to the park. She loved the swings and went higher and higher in the air! Then she came home and had some hummus for lunch. And then she had a nice nap with her Mommy.” I find babies as young as 8 or 9 months can get into this sort of story-telling and it can become a lovely part of the bedtime ritual.

Morality tales worked well when the kids were pre-schoolers. We used to tell stories about “The girl who never wore shoes” (her feet got very dirty and she got splinters) or “The boy who would only eat white food” (he didn’t get enough vitamins and got sick – but then he got better again when he started to eat green things too.) The children would assign the stories – they tried to make up really difficult situations. I remember they once asked for one about “The boy who would only eat square things.” I can’t remember what I came up with for that one…

When my children were 6 or 7 years old, their grandfather used to look at their baby albums with them and tell them stories about what the baby in the pictures was thinking. A baby wearing a tuque and cradled in his grandmother’s arms might be thinking: “Who is this lady? And why is she making me wear this silly hat?” The kids would laugh and laugh! They loved the change in point-of-view.

As the children grow, we move on to jokes and riddles and stories about our family and our culture and historical figures. And of course, we all tell the story of our day to each other at dinner time. Stories build families. What stories are you telling around your table these days?