How Can Simple Stories Influence Kids and Completely Change Their Behavior?
Have you ever watched a great movie or a fascinating TV show? If so, you’ve been captivated by a story. How about an incredible fiction novel? If you’ve ever read a book that you couldn’t put down, you’ve been sucked in by a story.
A great story grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. You’re compelled to take in the story from start to finish. If you get interrupted, you can’t wait to return to the story. You have to know the ending.
As a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, I want you to understand how powerful this can be. Story telling is one of the oldest, and most important ways we can influence our children. This is true for toddlers, preschoolers, grade schoolers, and teenagers.
Simply put, story telling is a power parenting tool.
A Story from My Childhood
Before I explain exactly why this is true, let me share a simple experience from my childhood. It was the year 1984, and a now-famous movie was just released. It was called The Karate Kid. As a 10 year old boy who was enrolled in a local Karate class, I saw the movie trailers on TV and was dying to go see this movie.
My best friend, Alex, convinced his mother to take us to see it. Alex had been my friend since birth. He later gave a speech at my wedding that caused everyone else to laugh at my expense. All in good fun. If he hadn’t been such a close friend, his speech wouldn’t have been OK. It’s important to have great friends.
Alex and I awaited the big day, one Saturday afternoon, when his mom would take us to the theatre, along with his little brother, Micheal. We had been anticipating The Karate Kid for weeks. The day was finally here!
The movie is about a boy, Daniel, and his single mom. Daniel has to move to California with his mom. He attends a new school and gets bullied by a gang of thugs who know Karate. The gang leader, Johnny, becomes someone that Daniel is deeply afraid of. He’s sick of getting beat up.
Daniel meets Mr. Miyagi, an old Japanese karate expert. Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel the art of karate. Daniel goes on to win a tournament, beating Johnny in the final match. But only after having his leg nearly broken in a semi-final match. The suspense was incredible.
Daniel wins the fight with a special kick called, “The Crane”, that he learned from Miyagi. As a 10 year old kid watching this movie, that kick was the absolute climax of the movie. The whole crowd went NUTS as Daniel won the fight and earned the respect of this gang of thugs and their bad-attitude karate teacher.
When the movie ended, we were on an emotional high. Alex, little brother Michael, and I were in the parking lot throwing karate kicks into the air, and cheering. But aside from making us want to imitate the movie in the parking lot, it had a lasting effect on me. It affected my life.
The movie taught me about the power of focus. If you want to succeed at something, you need to put energy into it every day.
It taught me the importance of fighting for what’s right. There’s no way I’m letting somebody push me around or take something that’s mine. I was bullied in my younger days and this movie helped me realize that I was in control.
It also taught me about coaching. Miyagi was a patient coach to Daniel. He skillfully taught Daniel how to do karate without Daniel even realizing what he was learning. If I re-watched this movie today, I doubt it would have the same effect on me. But when I was 10, the effect was immense.
If you followed along with story, you’ll now realize that I used a story from my own life to illustrate to you just how powerful stories can be.
Why are Stories So Darn Effective? How Can This Help Parents?
You probably already realize that stories capture your attention. But that’s really just the hook. Once you capture someone’s attention in a story you need to plant your message. Your message is the meaning that you want someone to get from your story.
The thing about stories is that they’re JUST stories. The listener never suspects that the story is being used to influence their behavior or emotions. But to use stories as a power parenting tool, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. You will tell your kids stories that have a purpose.
With very young children, you need to keep your stories simple. As a child gets older, you can add a bit more complexity to it. You be the judge of what’s appropriate for your own children.
Two Quick Examples
This first example is geared towards a three year old toddler who doesn’t like to wear a jacket (coat, sweater) on a cold day. If I wanted to motivate this child to wear warmer clothes without a fight, I would tell him a story at bedtime.
The story would be about a little bunny rabbit who lived in the woods with his parents. I’d verbally color in all the details of the story to make it vivid and real in the child’s mind. I’d manufacture a story where this little bunny somehow “lost” his warm jacket and ended up shivering in the cold, getting sick, and having to miss out on some kind of fun activity. Then, at the end of the story, the bunny would find his lost jacket and immediately put it on. I’d emphasize how good the bunny felt after putting the jacket back on. It felt comfortable and warm. The bunny loved his cozy jacket.
This story would be told at bed time, giving it some time to soak in. I wouldn’t tell this story just as I was about to drag my three year old out of the house, begging him to wear his coat! Timing is everything.
For the second example, let’s pretend you have an older child who keeps a very messy bedroom. Despite repeated requests, he isn’t interested in cleaning his room.
Say this same child had been asking for a new pair of jeans. You know he needs them, but you see an opportunity to use a story to teach the child about the importance of keeping a clean, organized room.
One day, casually, at dinner, you tell your son a story about your friend, Tommy, from your childhood. Tommy really wanted a new T-shirt that he’d seen in a store window. He begged his mom for it, but she just wouldn’t budge. Then, one day, Tommy thought he’d ask his mom what he could do to show her he deserved this new shirt. His mom responded by saying, “Tommy – when you can show me that you’re able to take care of your existing clothes, then we can talk about buying you new ones”.
?Next I’d move into the part of the story where Tommy gets the message and takes action. I’d tell my son about how Tommy cleaned up his room and surprised his mother the next day. Tommy’s mother was impressed. But she still told him, “I want you to convince me you can keep your room clean all the time now.”
Finally, I’d end the story by dropping a powerful message. I’d explain how I had just ran into Tommy when I was out at the store today, buying groceries. I hadn’t seen him in years. Tommy was dressed in great clothes, and smiling. He was very successful and driving a nice car. Tommy told me that after he learned how to take care of his stuff, he realized how much easier it is to get what you want in life.”
Here are the Keys to Telling Your Own Stories:
They can be made up or they can be real. But if you make up the story tell it with conviction. Tell it as if it’s real. Imagine it as if it really happened.
Make your story relate to a situation that your child will understand. There should be a simple relationship between the story and whatever you’re teaching your child.
Drop powerful suggestions that will positively impact your child. Stories can have lasting effects.
Lastly, tell stories regularly. The more you do it, the better you become.
In my Talking to Toddlers course, I teach you how to combine story telling with other techniques such as “embedded commands”, pattern interrupts, distraction, and other language skills. These additional skills will amplify the results you get. If you’re interested in learning more consider grabbing your own copy of the full home study audio course here.