Why you should teach your kids about stories

NB: This post was written to accompany the post ‘How to: The 6 (or so) fun and simple steps to creating a story with your kid

Read that post here.

Believe it or not, you live in a story. I live in a story. We all live in a story.

So, the importance of teaching your children to not only understand the structure of stories, but to also manipulate existing ones and develop their own, is kind of self-evident in that regard.

But you’re probably questioning the whole ‘live in a story’ thing, so I’ll explain.

We’ve been evolving for 3.5 billion years and that has come with some baggage, especially in how we perceive the world.

The way that perception takes place is by turning every experience and potential experience we encounter into stories.

You know this, too! You might not know you know it, but you know it.

Think about all those times you talk to yourself. The times you re-live a past experience, running through all the things you should have said. And all the times you imagine how something will play out.

We literally do this almost every second we’re awake. And then our dreams take over when we’re asleep.

It starts with wondering what outfit you should wear for the day, which leads to wondering when the last time was that you wore that outfit, which reminds you of that time you wore that outfit and said that silly thing, which reminds you of the way that person reacted when you said that thing, which makes you wonder what that person is doing now, which makes you Facebook stalk that person, which makes you see a photo of them next to their car, which makes you realise that person has the same car as you, which makes you remember you have to put your car in for service.

Every second of every day, you are turning your life into a story.

And for good reason.

Stories are what have helped us survive as long as we have. They explain the world. They’re what (one of the things) differentiates us from animals.

A squirrel does not tell itself a story about how it’s going to be nice and full in the winter because it’s collected all the nuts it needs. It doesn’t look at its pile and think, ‘I’ve actually over-collected, so I’ll give some to Frank, because he’s struggling and maybe next winter he can give me some of his nuts’.

No; squirrels collect nuts, because squirrels collect nuts.

But whereas animals act out their behaviours on repeat with no analysis, stories have allowed humans to evolve differently.

We act out behaviours, then begin recognising patterns in those behaviours, abstracting realities out of those patterns (because we don’t immediately understand why we do things), dramatising them in stories, articulating what is playing out in the drama, and finally understanding what is actually happening.

Stories allow us to create an avatar of ourselves in our own head and send it boldly into the world to try something out and, when it fails and perishes (in our heads), it means we don’t have to fail and perish in reality.

Animals don’t do that.

As psychology professor Jordan B Peterson said on this topic: “We live inside a shared story and the story is a way of living in the world and a way of acting in the world at the same time.”

Everyone has a story they’re playing out and it’s influenced by those around them and their own values.

So, why is it important to teach your kids to understand, manipulate and create stories?

It allows them to recognise the stories going on around them, the ones they’re taking part in and it allows them to take control of their own destiny within those stories.

As Dr Peterson said in summarising the reflections of Carl Jung: “Everybody acts out a myth, but very few people know what their myth is – and you should know what your myth is, because it might be a tragedy and maybe you don’t want it to be.”

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