Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Role of Story in Instilling Meaning in our Children's Lives

One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their children is a sense of meaning and purpose. Often times parents say that they want their children to "be happy" and while this seems to be a laudable goal, I believe it misses the point. Teaching children that their happiness is the ultimate goal in life will, more than likely, result in children who grow to be deeply unhappy and disappointed adults. Recent research bears this out. Social scientists have found that "having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression" (source). Happiness is a byproduct of a full and meaningful life.

Meaning vs. Happiness
Additionally, as observed by Nazi concentration camp survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl in his book The Meaning of Life: "It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness." While this may seem like a contradiction it bears out both in experience and in research. "Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others," explained Kathleen Vohs, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania where researchers found that those who pursue a happy life are associated with being "takers" and those who seek to live a meaningful life are more often "givers".

Where do stories fit in?

So, how does one instill in a child a sense of meaning and purpose? I believe that every parent wants their children to know that they inhabit a unique place in this world and that their lives have meaning. Whether we're affirming our children's value by loving and nurturing them or teaching them that their actions affect others, these are all a part of affirming a child's value. Fostering a connection to others is one aspect of showing our children that their lives have significance. Investing in the lives of others gives children an opportunity to see how they can positively impact those around them. One of the most effective ways to do this is to introduce them to the magic of story. Not only do stories educate intellectually, they reinforce emotional values. 

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is one of my favorite children's books. In it the young
protagonist, Wilfrid, makes friends with an elderly woman who lives at the nursing home next door. They both have four names and become fast friends. His friend, Miss Nancy, has "lost" her memory and Wilfrid is determined to help her find it. And while the boy is only four-years-old, he accomplishes his goal. Reading stories like this to children from a young age shows them that even the youngest children can have lives of significance. Stories open up the world to youngsters who are naturally very self-centered and in doing so show them the limitless possibilities that are available to them. The relationship between Miss Nancy and Wilfrid is not one-sided, it's a beautiful friendship from which both individuals gain tremendous benefit. And I think that is an important part of teaching our children to be wholeheartedly empathetic and kind. Obviously, we don't want to raise children with martyr complexes who give of themselves out of an unhealthy compulsion. Instead, we want to encourage our children to see their immense value and worth and  then invest of themselves in rich relationships and meaningful projects.

Historical Context

There are many wonderful fictional stories like Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge that provide examples of dynamic people living meaningful lives. Many can be found in Honey For A Childs Heart or Books that Build Character or our Teaching Character Through Literature curriculum but the stories of history can be just as effective. It is in history that we meet other "givers" – people who shaped history and made the world a little better by their having been in it. We also meet people who serve as cautionary tales. The richness of history is that it is about people just like us and if we can teach our children that they will understand that they also have a place in history. By connecting our children with the great "course of human events" through stories, we can instill that sense of value and meaning that may just result in their leading happy lives!

I would love to hear about your favorite stories! What books do you read to your children in the hopes that they help your child understand his or her value? What historical characters do your children connect with?

We would love to hear what you think! Chime in below in the comments section and share your thoughts. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Pinterest pages.  To learn more about Beautiful Feet Books, click here.
And if you've enjoyed this, please feel free to share using the buttons below! 

No comments:

Post a Comment