Updated: Feb 12
Do you know your personal history?
In the early 20th century, compulsory public schooling shifted away from history and transitioned to what we currently call social studies.
In 1918, the National Education Association (NEA) outlined that specified behaviours, health and vocational training were the central goals of education. This was a shift away from mental and character development, as well as training in critical thinking. They felt that the educational focus should be on the needs of our collective economic future, and they devalued the benefit of history; or any careful consideration of the past.
An effect of this generational shift? The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that suicide is the second leading cause of death in students between the ages of 15-24. Children are ill-equipped to cope with the pressures and experiences in life. While some children are managing to get by, others are not. Despite controversial world events and politics, wars waging and poverty, all opportunities to provide children with an objective glimpse into the struggles of life, we shield our children, concerned that they are too mentally fragile to understand. So where do we start?
The best first step is through stories. Fables and folklore. Give them heroes who have fallen to rise again, who have suffered but have vanquished. Give your children an opportunity to experience struggle through a story, to ask their questions and to start to build their language around not only pain, grief, and sorrow, but also courage, bravery and integrity. Stories help us build a bridge between our own nature, foreign and alien to us as children, and the different natures of other people in this shared society that we have collectively constructed.
Learn your family history. Read more stories. Preferably the fables and folklore written in the 19th century or earlier. Children’s stories have only recently become void of real human struggle in the 20th and 21st centuries. Fables and folklore give you the forum to lay the ground work for character development. Some examples that come to mind include Greek Mythology, African Folklore; Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood. I read them again as an adult and am mindful of the woods at dusk for a little while after. That’s the effect you want. Every culture has their own fables and folklore, so don’t limit yourself. These types of stories were constructed to shape your child’s character, strengthen them mentally, and provide them a foundation from which to build emotional awareness.
Children experience stories differently from adults. They get absorbed in the narrative and their little bodies embody the experience, the drama and the emotions of the characters. Storytelling provides a safe environment where you can teach your children the frame, the language and the appropriate responses to the emotions that these stories elicit; leveraging the safety and objectivity of the fictitious third-party characters. Stories allow you to expand your child’s mental and character development, while nourishing their emotional quotient.
Emotions are complex. Varying life experiences trigger different emotions, some of which we may have never felt before. Emotions are not restricted to a given age category, and children are still learning how to articulate their basic emotions to get the support they need. In time, they develop a grasp of language and a growing exposure to situations, either personally or through anecdotes, that help them identify their emotions and determine what direction to take.
Stories have a quiet power to help your child grow strong, feel capable and have a point of reference to m