Want Emotionally Healthy Children? Tell Family Stories
By David Edwards, Church Magazines
“The [children] who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.” —Dr. Marshall Duke, researcher
Have you ever told your children about where their grandparents grew up or what schools you went to?
If so, then your children may be better equipped to face life’s challenges, according to research conducted by psychologists Robyn Fivush, Jennifer G. Bohanek, and Marshall Duke of Emory University.
The researchers found a strong relationship between children’s knowledge of family history and various measures of emotional well-being. Children who knew more of their family history had more functional family lives, more self-control, greater feelings of self-worth, and fewer signs of depression or anxiety.
“The [children] who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress,” Dr. Duke told the New York Times.
According to the study, cross-generational family stories play an important role in children’s self-definition. When children see themselves as part of a larger family narrative, they feel more secure and more confident. They have a stronger sense of self. As a result, they have a greater ability to overcome challenges, as well as greater emotional resilience in the face of life’s ups and downs.
The researchers are quick to point out, however, that simply knowing family stories is not really the most important factor in this area of children’s development. What gives these stories their power is the means by which they are conveyed—frequent, meaningful parent-child interaction or, in short, family time. And the dinner table still seems to loom large as a place for passing along family lore.
“Simply knowing the answers to questions will not produce the good outcomes described above,” Dr. Duke wrote in a response to a New York Times article. “The good outcomes as well as the knowledge of family history that the children possessed were all the result of something else.”
According to Dr. Duke, that something includes the process of sharing stories across generations.
Dr. Duke listed family travels and mealtimes as important story-sharing times but added, “Given the complexities of modern family life, families can also sit and talk over a snack after school or before everyone goes off to work, or at any other time that they can focus on each other. These gatherings—short or long—are at the heart of the process by which the intergenerational stories can be told and learned and through which children can grow stronger and healthier.”