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The Importance and Benefits of Telling Family Stories Part I (A 2-part article)

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Many parents are aware of the benefits of reading to and with their children. Besides enhancing their literacy skills and extending their learning of the world around them, sharing a book together is an excellent parent-child bonding activity. But beyond the stories of published authors, there are remarkable benefits to recounting family stories of your own to your children.

Research has shown that when parents share family stories with their children, they develop a stronger sense of self identity and a higher self-esteem (Bohanek, Jennifer, Marin, Kellya, Fivush, Robyn & Duke, Marshall, 2006). Adolescents who routinely listen to family stories also have a stronger knowledge of their own family history, better coping skills, and a greater sense of well-being (Fivush, Robyn, Bohanek, Jennifer & Zaman, Widaad, 2011).

What are Family Stories?
They are simply stories about the family. They may revolve around significant events in the family, the experiences of a particular family member, or the history of particular family traditions. They may also be about your family name (and nicknames), or memorable foods (and their recipes) enjoyed by your family.

Why is family storytelling so powerful and why tell family stories?

  • Family stories promote a sense of identity in children, by helping them understand who they are, and where they come from.

When children hear stories about their family members – be it their parents, grandparents, or their ancestors – they learn about the experiences and origins of their family. They have a better sense of who they are and their cultural roots.

One of the stories my father often recounted to me was how his grandfather travelled from a province in Guangdong, China, sailing all the way down to Singapore, before journeying back north to Perak, Malaysia, where he found work in the mining town of Taiping. My father would share stories of his grandfather’s struggles and hardship, and how he weathered the harsh working conditions of labouring in a tin mine in the 1900s. But he worked hard enough to buy himself out of his coolie contract, and eventually move to Singapore to seek a better life for his children.

  • Family stories build resilience in children

When children hear stories of how their family members overcame past difficulties, they gain insights into real-life lessons in coping with life’s challenges, which helps build resilience.

For example, I often recall the breathtaking stories my grandmother shared, before she was struck with dementia in her later years. One treasured story was of how she kept her hungry children fed during the Japanese Occupation. She would tell of how she queued for food rations and how resourceful she was at finding food and making each meal last longer for her children.

These stories helped me develop a greater understanding and appreciation of my own cultural roots and heritage. Stories of how elders in my family coped during their moments of crisis have been an enduring source of inspiration, which I still draw lessons from today.

Stay Tuned for the Part II article on “How to Discover Your Own Family Stories?” in the next issue!

Written By: Karen Lee, Programme Officer



Bohanek, Jennifer; Marin, Kellya; Fivush, Robyn & Duke, Marshall. (2006). Family Narrative Interaction and Children’s Sense of Self. Family Process, 45, 39-54. DOI: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2006.00079. Source: PubMed

Fivush, Robyn; Bohanek, Jennifer & Zaman, Widaad. (2011). Personal and Intergenerational Narratives in Relation to Adolescents’ Well-Being. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 131, 45-57. DOI: 10.1002/cd. Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc