One of the hardest aspects of raising children is guiding them through periods of major transition in their lives. My daughter will be starting Kindergarten in about six weeks, and I have been thinking of ways to use stories from our family's history to instill within her a sense of courage and confidence as she enters this new chapter of her life.
Even as adults, going through periods of change in our lives - whether it be moving to a new place, getting a new job, or transitioning from one relationship to another - is tough! Children and adolescents do not necessarily have a frame of reference in which to view major life changes, so it can be even more difficult for them. We, as parents, can try to offer our advice and recount past experiences when it comes to new people and places, but, as all of my fellow parents know, it's not uncommon for kids to simply tune us out. They may, however, be more willing to listen to stories about their ancestors going through life challenges and transitions than about when mom and dad when through some of the same experiences.
Stories of immigration to a new country or migration to a new part of the country can instill within children a sense of adventure and a blatant disregard for fear of the unknown - a trait that helps us to take risks and is, at times, a wonderful thing to possess. These kinds of stories are also great for teaching the benefits of shedding possessions, starting fresh, and meeting new people.
Stories of learning new skills and perhaps starting a new business can promote a confidence in their family's work ethic and teach kids the long-term benefits of learning new things.
Stories of young people leaving home to start an apprenticeship or to otherwise work or learn in another place can teach kids about having courage in their abilities and developing self-reliance.
Stories of difficult and/or prolonged business or educational pursuits can teach children about perseverance and not giving up when things don't always go they way they should.
And while these sorts of stories very often contain an amount of hardship within, try to not focus on the hardship itself, but instead on the overcoming of the hardship and the character traits used by their ancestors to do so. Whenever the story permits, focus on how people surrounding your ancestor - other family members, friends, neighbors, clergy - may have helped him/her through their challenges, and assure your children that you will always be there to help, if needed.
Make your storytelling interactive and encourage comments and questions from the children. When possible, show them photos of the ancestors you are talking about, as well as evidence of their accomplishments, such as a photo of a business in which they worked, a diploma, a newspaper article about them, or a military medal. Be sure to tell your children that they are genetically made of the same building blocks as their ancestors, and that they have the traits and abilities within them to weather life's trials in the same manner as their family members did long ago.
The stories of the past have the power to guide and encourage the generation of the future.
©2016 Emily Kowalski Schroeder