In the last article, I offered an approach to telling original stories to your child at bedtime. In the article I mentioned the joy children feel when a parent tells them a story. Its a counter-cultural act of love, this family storytelling business, if you think about it. And it is good for all sorts of things beyond comfort, fun, and urging your child into sleep.
For instance, when a child imagines, endorphins, the "feel good" molecules of the endocrine system, are released into the bloodstream. These are the same molecules released when we experience a "runners high". They create a feeling of well-being, which in itself has genuine value, especially at bedtime.
Add to that the cognitive benefits. PET scan studies of childrens brains reveal that during creative play and storytelling, large areas of the brain are in use, particularly the pre-frontal lobes behind the forehead where mathematics, philosophical thought, imagination and all the rest of our brains higher functions come together (read Joseph Chilton Pearces bestseller, Evolutions End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence). To appreciate what this means, consider a quote from Albert Einstein: "If you want your children to be intelligent, tell them fairytales (sic)."
Thats an interesting comment from a genius in physics. His other famous quote in this regard is "Imagination is more important than knowledge." In our data-driven culture, data often passes for knowledge.
Lots of kids nowadays, including my own, have come to equate having an Ipod full of a thousand songs--their own "mix", of course--with a kind of musical mastery. This is "I have more data and taste than anyone else" ethos. As if having lots of songs in your computer can replace being able to write and sing one yourself.
In any case, family storytelling nourishes an ancient part of all our minds, connects us to those we love, and makes life meaningful in a personal, small way. Often, adult students in my storytelling workshops say that what they remember most dearly from childhood is when mom or dad shared stories from their lives or else when they just told silly made-up stories about funny characters.
Remember, your voice is the voice your child loves the most. In the third trimester of gestation, babies are listening. They physically react to the phonemes of language, floating as fetuses/babies in moms mini-ocean. Babies hear every word we say, long before they are born. Water amplifies sound. Thats why smart moms talk to their babies all the time, long before they are born. Dads around, too. Mom and Dads voices are the most constant. And thats why your voice is the voice your child loves the most.
Knowing that, consider the proportion of broadcast voices in your childs world versus the presence of your own. Entertainers are good at what they do but no matter how good they are, your voice, considering the depth of the imprinting going on, cant be beat, really.
So I submit that parents voices are powerful.
Especially when, for once, theyre not telling kids what they can and cant do. But instead, they are simply sharing either their lives or fantasies of their own making-- which are of course their lives anyway.
As I said earlier, your stories dont have to be epics. But the more often you try to dream one up, the more easily you can return to that imaginative realm and, believe it or not, add another adventure. And because you yourself are making up those silly stories, they have your original imprint. They are you.
You, the parent, can become a media source more powerful than all the cartoons in the world, than all the sitcoms, than all the big budget movies. You can outdo them all simply by being there and trying to tell your kid a story at bedtime for a few years running.
Sounds impossible, doesnt it? But its not. Its real. I heartily recommend trying it. See what happens. Not only is it healthy for your child, but once youve gotten the hang of it, its fun. Adults need a little personal creativity, too, every once in a while. It makes an otherwise quotidian life sparkle a little.
And it makes me want to birth a bad little rhyme:
Being an artist is fun Even with an audience of one