It’s the time of year when families get together to eat, fight, and re-tell old stories. However, therapists claim these tales are mostly that, just feeling nostalgic.
Family gatherings over holidays have subjected children to boredom-inducing stories for centuries, perhaps millennia. However, kids happen to absorb more information from family stories than we may think. Furthermore, such knowledge bestows upon them surprising psychological benefits, reports The Wall Street Journal.
According to Robyn Fivush, a psychology professor and director of Emory University’s Institute for Liberal Arts, the best holiday stories are funny or entertaining and convey life lessons.
“They have a very important function in teaching children, ‘I belong here. I’m part of these stories.’ They provide not just a script for life, but a set of values and guideposts,” she says.
26-year-old Hannah Rose Blakely told The Wall Street Journal that listening to stories regarding her late uncle, a Vietnam veteran, helped her appreciate her family’s resourcefulness in the face of adversity. Her uncle once worked as a roughneck in rattlesnake-infested oil fields. Donning thick wrapped in burlap, he made his way through the grass and captured any rattlers that thrust their fangs into his protective gear. He went on to sell them to laboratories, where their venom was harvested for medicine.
Over 90% of teenagers and young adults can recount family stories when pressed, even if they were seemingly uninterested in the story when they first heard it.
“Family stories were important in forming my idea of the character of the family,” says Ms. Blakeley, a doctoral candidate at Princeton University.
Over 90% of teenagers and young adults can recount family stories when pressed, even if they were seemingly uninterested in the story when they first heard it, according to a 2018 study of 66 families with teenage children and 194 college students led by Natalie Merrill, a postdoctoral researcher at Emory.
Intergenerational stories in particular provide youngsters with a sense of identity. In a 2008 study, researchers at Emory interviewed 40 children aged between 10 and 14 on twenty family-history questions. Those who answered more questions correctly were found to have less anxiety and fewer behavior problems.
Stories that include emotional descriptions of how the storyteller felt at the time, such as distress, anger, or sadness, and tell how they handled such emotions, help children regulate their own emotions, says Dr. Fivush. One study in which researchers asked families with pre-teen children to reminisce about happy and negative experiences found that the children whose parents explained negative emotions and how they resolved them had better social and academic skills two years later.
Tis the season for adults to consider sharing their stories, says Dr. Fivush. “Telling a story might seem weird on a Monday at 3:00 p.m., but over Thanksgiving dinner, it can be easier to say, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about a story …’” she says.
She encourages us to ask ourselves this: “If I had to leave the children with one or two stories, what are the ones I would want them to know?”