Young children love to hear stories about when you were growing up. Telling young children about your childhood experiences can be a powerful learning and growth tool for children in may ways. For one, family stories help us learn and preserve our family history. This knowledge creates a sense of continuity that’s linked to increased resilience. While you’ll want to tell family stories that are age-appropriate for your 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old now, you’ll be setting the stage for honestly sharing family stories that may be difficult or painful down the road. Building this base can help your child learn two powerful tools: learning to understand painful experiences, which, in turn, can help your child learn to celebrate joyful ones, too.

If grandparents are available, encourage them to share their stories, too. Hearing stories from childhoods in different time periods gives kids the opportunity to understand how experiences change over time. Listening to multigenerational stories reinforces an understanding of family and how things are similar or different from generation to generation.

How to tell your child family stories

Take the opportunity to tell one short story each evening, letting your child ask questions as they arise. Then ask your child to tell you a story they remember from their earlier years (even if it was yesterday or last week, that is fine). When grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other relatives visit, encourage them tell stories about their childhoods, too. As they do, help your child make comparisons about the changes that have occurred. If you wish, you can write these stories down in a family journal so you have your own family story book to read aloud from.

Helpful hints to keep in mind:

  • Keep your stories age-appropriate. This applies to the content of the story, but also the length and level of detail. Five minutes is a long time for a young child to sit still and listen, so keep it short and add further details later, in a re-telling of this story, when your child is older.
  • Start with relevant stories. If your child was on the swings today, tell a story about swinging when you were a child. All listeners, regardless of age, appreciate when the content is relevant to them in some way.
  • Be mindful of feelings. Stories are a great way of learning new words, especially about emotions. So as you tell your story, teach your child the emotion words that go with the feelings you’re describing, such as worried, scared, excited, nervous, joyful, and surprised.