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Strengthening Relationships and Children through Family Stories
By Kari Ure, Extension Assistant Professor
How many family stories do you know? There may be stories of migration or comedies about Uncle so-and-so or Great-Great-Grandma so-and-so that have been passed down. Family members may have survived natural disasters, served in the armed forces, or had a great business success. These shared stories can be influential in developing family and individual identity (Rollins, 2013), because stories are important for understanding the world. Sharing family stories is also a powerful way to strengthen and unite family members. Family stories with examples of overcoming challenges can help younger generations find strength to overcome their own struggles.
Research shows that when children know more about their family they are more resilient, have higher self-esteem, better self-control, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and are more prepared to make good decisions when they encounter challenges (Fivush et al., 2010). Family events such as holiday gatherings, family mealtimes, and vacations are important times when family stories can be shared. Sharing different perspectives of the stories are important as families gather and reminisce. It’s important to keep records of the stories and simply writing them down has been shown to be more meaningful and better preserved than other digital recordings, although video and voice recordings, if preserved in a way that can be replayed are also fun for future generations.
Stories of both triumph and failure teach important life lessons. Humorous stories that include misunderstandings or coincidences or just using humor as a way to make life more enjoyable also teach valuable skills. As you plan summer reunions and time spent as a family be intentional in including family stories. A few suggestions include: ancestor bingo, visiting a place of significance to your family, celebrating birthdays for deceased family members, playing games family members enjoyed, making a favorite family recipes book, photo activities to find what family members looked like in their youth and who looks alike, creating a family history time capsule, and family service projects.
Remember that the family activities and traditions you create now become family stories for future generations. For more information on making family stories powerful visit: https://lairdnortonwm.com/wp-content/uploads/Questions-and-Answers-with-Dr.-Marshall-Duke.pdf
Fivush, R., Bohanek, J., & Duke, M. (2008). The intergenerational self: Subjective perspective and family history. Individual and collective self-continuity. New York, NY: Psychology Press. 131-144.
Fivush, R., Duke, M., & Bohanek, J. (2010). Do you know…the power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being. Journal of Family Life. Retrieved from https://ncph.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-power-of-family-history-in-adolescent-identity.pdf
Rollins, J. A. (2013). The power of family history. Pediatric Nursing, 39(3), 113–114.