Everyone loves a good story. We are tickled by funny anecdotes, we “ooh” and “ahh” at unbelievable tales, and even shed tears together for tragic or painful stories.
Aside from their entertainment value, stories are a crucial part of relationships because they act as windows for others to see into our inner worlds. Since our personal experiences and how we perceive them make each of us unique individuals, the stories we tell contain more than just details about a situation. In other words, when you listen to your child tell a story, you’re actually stepping into their shoes and getting to know them better.
Throughout all the surveys and interviews we’ve conducted, almost every parent has expressed the desire to cultivate strong and healthy relationships with their kids – a goal that’s both incredibly important and nearly impossible to put a time frame on. That is why we want to suggest the value of everyday stories in building small but invaluable moment-to-moment connections!
When you use Bramble, you’ll see that we have a list of topic-specific questions prepared for every conversation subject we suggest. These include questions like: What’s something you did recently that you didn’t want to do? Or: Tell me about a time you tried something new. In response to these questions, kids begin to open up about their day, creating an opportunity for parents to understand them and empathise with them.
How does that happen? How do I turn a story about my son losing his pencil case into a golden chance to grow our relationship? How can I listen to my daughter complain about homework and use it to deepen our bond?
Truth be told, there are many right answers to those questions! There are countless different ways for you to respond to your child’s stories. Today, we’re just going to focus on one strategy: you tell a story in return.
Here are some tips and tricks for telling your child a story in order to connect and empathise with them:
1. Focus on the feelings behind the story, not necessarily on the details of the event itself.
2. Pay attention to your children’s facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and choice of words! What they say can provide some clues, but how they say it can tell you a lot about their emotions and thoughts too.
3. Tell a story about a time that you felt the same feelings.
Our emphasis is on the word “feeling” because we want you to connect on the basis of having felt the same way. For example, if your child shares about how disappointed they were when they failed a test, your job is to pick up on the feeling of disappointment, not the context of a test failure.
This means you should tell a story about a time you felt disappointed, regardless of whether it was from failing a test. It also means that you should not tell a story about a time you failed a test but didn’t feel disappointed. Doing something like this could easily lead you to our next point…
4. Use your story to empathise, not to teach a lesson.
As parents, it’s easy to slip into the mode of trying to impart values, teach lessons, and correct wrongdoings. That’s good and valid! But don’t disguise your inclination to teach behind an attempt to be empathetic. When you’re trying to empathise and build a foundation for your relationship, it’s okay to put your teaching agenda aside to simply let your children know they aren’t alone in feeling that way.
What does this look like? That means sharing about a time that you also felt disappointed in yourself, like when you clammed up and gave a lousy presentation at work. Don’t add in that the moral of the story is to prepare more thoroughly, don’t throw in fancy sayings about failure being the parent of success.
5. Last but not least, when listening to your child’s stories and telling stories of your own, choose empathy instead of efficiency.
Is your daughter rambling about something that excites her? Go along with her excitement! Tell a story about when you last felt exhilarated too. While listening to your son talk about how frustrated he feels at himself, are your Parent Senses already tingling to point out to him what he could’ve done differently to avoid feeling frustrated at all? Take a deep breath and challenge yourself to show empathy first. Tell a story about the last time you felt frustrated with yourself.
Stories are fantastic ways for parents to understand their kids and to show them empathy. They are windows into our thoughts and feelings, and they add flavour to our everyday conversations. The next time your child tells you a story – even just the most mundane one – try trading experiences with them by telling them one from your own life!