Storytelling as a Parenting Technique

Storytelling is a Creative Activity for both Parent and Child

Parenting education has been in use for quite some time to improve the effectiveness of parents in interacting with their children. A number of theoretical models have dominated parent child interactions including behavioral, Adlerian, Parent Effective Training, positive parenting, and combinations of these models. While these models differ in theoretical foundation, they all tend to overuse direct interactions and techniques, and minimize indirect or paradoxical techniques. Direct techniques refer to parents learning specific behavioral interactions to change or modify their child’s behavior. Indirect or paradoxical techniques suggest that there are no specific parenting behaviors for specific misbehavior. Instead of direct techniques to address specific child misbehaviors, indirect techniques include reframing, redirection, humor, paradox, and storytelling.

One of the most effective indirect methods is storytelling.  Storytelling is a powerful relationship tool and forms a close bond between parent and child. Researchers have found that storytelling enhances the level of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that is associated with empathy and sensitivity to others, through parents’ storytelling with their children, which improves attachment and parent/child bonding. Researchers have also found that storytelling increases cognitive development and learning in young children. By the time children are three or four years old they can tell whole stories, including past, present , and future components. Stories engage the whole brain including the amygdala, the center of emotional processing. Researchers have noted that storytelling helps young children understand the world by a process called “transportation.” Children are instantly transported into the lives of the characters, which can give them a new or different perspective of their world. Furthermore, stories are fundamental to play because children often create a narrative with their toys which stimulate imagination.

Another use of storytelling is to influence their decision making and misbehavior. As a behavioral technique, storytelling can be a nonintrusive method and can emphasize parenting expectations. Messages can be imparted to children non-consciously and affect the child without direct attention.

Although storytelling has been around from antiquity, few parents understand how to use it to guide and positively influence their child’s behavior. Researchers have found that stories have a universal structure which begins with a surprise, followed by increasing apprehension that the character must overcome and culminates with the character resolving the issue through self reflection and analysis. What is needed is to engage parents in learning how to tell stories to their children that will enhance attachment, improve the parent/child relationship, increase learning, and reduce misbehaving.


About Dr. Roberts

Dr. Roberts has worked for the past 25 years in the field of Child and Family Development. He has a PhD in Child and Family Development with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy. He also has an EdS degree in Counseling and the MDiv degree in Theology. He directed the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Appalachian State University, Chaired the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Long Beach State, and chaired the Department of Child and Family Development at San Diego State University. Dr. Roberts is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Georgia and had his own practice before starting his long career in higher education. Dr. Roberts also holds the title of Elder in the United Methodist Church.
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