Humans have been recounting stories around campfires since long before the invention of writing. There is no older form of communication, and early humans passed down stories from one generation to the next. These tales were used as a way to teach younger generations, and share wisdom, beliefs, values, traditions, and culture. Our ability to organize experiences into narratives is what separates mankind from other species. It is a way for humans to feel we have control over the world, to find meaning from randomness, and patterns in the midst of chaos.
This is why storytelling is deeply embedded in every society; telling stories is an intrinsic part of our everyday lives. But what exactly are the psychological comforts of storytelling? Why do you need to read and tell stories to your kids? And more importantly, why do you need to listen to your kids’ stories?
Children tell stories all the time – from describing what happened to them at school, things they saw at the amusement park, or events at their friend’s birthday party. Often, they center their play on stories. They might put on a cape and a mask, grab their toy sword and enact superhero rescues, complete with sound effects. This is all part of the human mind’s natural inclination towards storytelling.
The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling and Benefits for Kids
Stories provide a sense of belongingness, empathy, and emotional learning. All of these are incredibly important for the development of a child.
For Cognitive Development
The human mind loves stories, be it listening or sharing. Stories nurture a child’s sense of imagination when they convert the words from stories they hear into fantastic images in their minds.
A study published in 2012 showed how stories create neural connections between the storyteller and the listener. This is because similar parts of the speaker and listener’s brain are activated during the process; scientists call it neural coupling.
Stories help a child’s creativity, imagination, and language skills. They strengthen their visual cognition, memory, and problem-solving skills. More importantly, making stories more engaging for children (i.e. asking open-ended questions after the story) encourages them to internalize the story further and teaches them to express their own opinions and views.
For Emotional Development
Stories don’t only make connections between the minds of the speaker and the listener. They also create heart-to-heart connections. This is why storytelling from parents and caregivers is incredibly important for the child’s emotional development – it strengthens their bonds.
Subsequently, stories teach children to identify different types of emotions, building their emotional literacy as they often develop empathy for one or more characters in the story. It creates awe and wonder in their minds and instills hope in their hearts.
It Improves Listening and Comprehension Skills
Most kids do not have the capability and/or patience to focus for too long. This is why holding their attention for an extended period of time is extremely difficult. However, when children are told stories, they tend to listen. Stories teach them to focus, listen, and understand.
Listening to linear and simple stories where a hero reaches a goal by overcoming obstacles teaches them the importance of perseverance, grit, and resiliency – qualities that contribute to their well-being.
It Creates a Sense of Belongingness
Stories help people make sense of the world. Different cultures have different folktales and myths. They create a sense of purpose and belongingness and foster understanding with others. Humans are wired to connect with each other, and stories help to do just that.
It Improves Social Skills
Storytelling encourages children to pay attention and focus on the speaker. Because children must allow the speaker to talk, they not only learn how to listen, they also widen their perspective and start to see the world from other people’s points of view.
Furthermore, telling stories to your child strengthens the bond between you. Children long for their parents’ time and attention. Thus, appreciate storytelling time as a bonding opportunity.
It Sharpens Memory
One good way to make the most of every storytelling time is to ask questions before, during, and after you read a story to your child. This way, you are encouraging them to internalize the details from the story. It’s a great way to see how much they can recall and sharpen their memory.
It Widens Their Worldview
Different stories from around the world have different lessons and values from diverse cultures. Thus, telling stories to your child exposes them to a world of different cultures. This teaches children to understand others and learn about how people around the world express themselves and their beliefs. Subsequently, it also teaches them about different customs and cultures, and how to respect and appreciate people outside of their own social environment.
It Improves Intelligence
When children have to listen and focus on what the storyteller is saying, they envision the story in their minds. They recreate the scenarios mentally, complete with the characters and the settings. They think not only about the heroes of the story, but more importantly the plot. This is a similar process to solving a complex problem, which is incredibly important for their brain development.
Stories that include movements foster their imagination even more. By using movements and vocalization, you can create the journey of the characters inside their mind and make each word more impactful.
Why Should You Care About the Psychological Comforts of Storytelling?
Nowadays, most parents depend on the convenience of technology. They opt to let their kids watch videos on their phone or TV to fall asleep. While cartoons and nursery rhymes can get them involved, nothing beats good old storytelling, especially in the early years of the child’s development.
As a parent, you need to understand the psychological comforts of storytelling, and help mold your children’s minds and shape their character. Engage with them, influence them positively, and encourage them to come up with their own stories to tell. As Danish author Isak Dinesen once said, “to be a person is to have a story to tell.”
By sharing stories and encouraging your child to share their story, you help them uncover their truths, and discover and relate to the things around them. You create a strong foundation for their social-emotional intelligence, which is an incredible asset for their early education and overall development.