How To Make A 3 Year Old Behave In Public The Power of Storytelling

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The Power of Storytelling

Remember the end of The Wizard of Oz, when Glenda the good witch asks Dorothy what she had learned on her journey. Dorothy says, “I think I’ve learned that when you want and desire your heart’s desire, but you can’t find it, then maybe it’s in your own right and you’re never really lost to begin with.”

The ideas that many parents want their children to embrace—ideas like cooperation, kindness, or honesty—can be the most challenging concepts for parents to get across. In a flash, young people see a lecture coming and are ready to mentally retreat, leaving a black expression that almost every parent recognizes with a sigh.

Fortunately, “in their own backyard”, parents already have a strategy that is fully capable of effectively conveying these messages to ready and open ears. I invite you to rediscover a secret weapon that you have always had – and young people have always responded to – History.

An ancient treasure

In these days of “virtual-this” and “electronic-that,” there are those who might relegate storytelling to the dusty realm of a bygone era. Yet storytelling remains firmly rooted in our human cultural experience after all these years. We see the surface in many forms. From advertiser sales pitches, to speeches by public figures, to broadcasters’ fervent promise of “More in that story after our commercial break…”

Among children, however, storytelling also holds a stronger and deeper magic. In fact, it seems that children demand stories with the same insistence that they are hungry for attention or food!

Transfigured by Stories

Parents around the world will attest to the phenomenon that is children and stories. The magical opening, “Once upon a time…” or “So many years ago…” focuses on the young eyes that, just a moment ago, were wandering aimlessly along the ceiling. Random event opener like “Here’s a story I heard today that you might like…” or “Have you heard the story of…?” bring your feet dangling and impatient to freeze mid-swing. A boy fascinated by the travels of a wandering fruit fly turns his full attention to the story’s narrator. The sense of concentration is palpable.

As a Girl Scout leader, I was once hauling a station wagon full of amazingly hoarse 6-year-old Brownies. Three times I stopped the car to scold the unbelievers for fighting, yelling, throwing, hitting. All for nothing. At a loss, I slipped in a fairy tale CD. Instantly, the whole car went quiet. The would-be hooligans stood firm until the end of the story, at which point they almost instantly burst into mischief again. The story then begins and, once again, silence replaces the bedlam.

Why is children’s attention captivated by stories? For one thing, the story pattern (a beginning-middle-end) creates a structure that children recognize and understand. The ending is sure to be satisfying – the triumph of the youngest of three children, the deal with impossible tasks, the glory of a troubled romance. Such popular themes in fairy tales show children, as Bruno Bettleheim says in his classic study The use of charm“that a struggle against severe difficulties in life is inevitable” but that if he meets the difficulties, “he overcomes all obstacles and in the end comes out victorious”.

Indeed, children seem to respond well to any story that offers magic or fantasy, perhaps because, being young, they live closer to the outer worlds of magic and fantasy. When my oldest daughter was 4 ½ years old, she started the morning with a small hole in her pants that by the end of the day exposed most of her knee. “This hole’s getting so big,” I warned him, “you’ll soon fall right into it.” “You’re kidding me!” she said with a laugh, and then looked straight at me – “really?” When children enter elementary school, their personal sense of time and place intensifies, but the world of magic and the story of history attracts at the borders.

Contemporary stories of modern life can also capture powerful claims on a child’s heart when the story features the child, family members, friends, or other people the child knows. Openings like “I told you the story of your wild father Louis, who threw the whole town into a panic when…” or “I’ll never forget what happened when you were just learning to walk and.. .” It also holds the child’s attention because of the personalized nature of the story.

Add to all the factors the experience of hearing a story – that is, a narrator’s voice, the impact of direct eye contact, the playful quality of hand gestures, facial expressions, ad -libs and the dramatic reactions to the events in the story, and it is not surprising that children are fascinated by stories.

The clear fact that stories reliably capture children’s attention creates a unique and meaningful opportunity for parents. While young people often respond reluctantly, if not rebelliously, to directing parents’ instructions on how to behave, those same children will welcome and absorb the same ideas when woven into a story.

As a parent, which scenario do you prefer? To report the instructions to a child whose expression dares: “Whatever-you-sell-I-am-not-buying-! Or to offer these same instructions to a child whose expression says: “Really? Tell me more. Now.”

While we can accept that stories are a powerful conduit, it is also clear that in themselves, stories do not necessarily have positive messages. In fact, stories can just as easily convey negative messages, and often do. Imagine that a story is a form of transport, a kind of express vehicle. Its contents may be fresh, crunchy apples, or its contents may be cartons of explosives. The contents that are loaded on the “storytelling express at the beginning of its journey determine what is received at its destination. As a parent, your role is to load valuable messages on your express of narration and send it to its destination – the heart of your child.

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