3 Simple Ways to Encourage Good Behavior in Children with Storytelling

Anyone who’s ever purchased a book on potty training, manners, or making friends knows the power of stories to help influence the behavior of our children. In our push to promote literacy, however, sometimes we forget that the book is actually optional. Generations have told stories around a campfire or while tucking kids into bed. Most of the folk and fairytales we read regularly started as oral traditions. But for littles growing up with iPads, stories like the Boy Who Cried Wolf might be too complex or just plain unrelateable. So, why not make up your own stories to teach the lessons based on your child’s needs and interests? 

The Waldorf tradition is particularly strong in using stories and imagination as learning tools, and offers tons of ideas and suggestions for how to get started. Two of my favorite books are Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon and Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior by Susan Perrow. Each book offers frameworks and ideas for how to get going (and some stories that you can learn too.)

Here are three types of stories to fuel your imagination: 

  • Stories from your life that illustrate how to deal with challenges. In my house, these are stories that talk about when we were afraid, but learned to be brave. My sometimes timid 3 year old loves hearing about how our cat learned to go outside, how I overcame fear to go on a zipline through the rainforest on a trip to Peru before she was born, and how when she was a baby, she bravely overcame a knee scrape. Not only do these stories help model how she can handle fear, they often provide a “tell” for when she’s feeling a little vulnerable, since she’ll ask us to tell her these stories to help her manage her own fear. 

  • Imaginary stories that teach a lesson. When my daughter was learning to potty train, we made up stories about a little alter ego who knew how to use the potty but would rather go in her pants than stop playing. Now that she’s a bit older, we have stories about a little crab who learns not to pinch its friends and a little koala who learns to climb without his mother (both learned from the Perrow book above.) Telling stories is just another tool we’re using to help our daughter understand why the behavior we’re asking her for (using the potty, not biting, taking care of herself) might make sense, without complicated lectures from us (that she’s not listening to anyway.)

  • Stories when they’re sick. Dealing with a listless, sick child when you’re worried about work deadlines causes some of parentings most challenging moments, especially if you’re sick too. Rather than popping them in front of the television, however, try an story (or even series of stories) to distract from physical discomfort and relax into sleep. Got a sore throat? Think of a dragon who stopped breathing fire. Pink eye? What about a story of blind mice? Old favorites like the Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks also work well in this situation, especially if the story is silly and provides laughter. 

These aren’t the only situations where stories can help, of course. Setting up regular story times offers a powerful tool to connect with your child on their level. Stories don’t have to be long or elaborate. And, if you’re tapped for creativity, it’s quite alright to just memorize stories someone else has already written. But the more you tell stories, the better you’ll get and the more fun you’ll have doing it. 

So you really don't have it in you today to tell a story?  Check out this stop motion video of The Three Little Pigs.

(Photo of Albert Einstein on his 70th birthday via Britannica Kids)