Using Stories to Teach Important Values

Parents want to impart important values to their kids. The trouble is, they often try to do so by “lecturing” – making long speeches to their kids about right and wrong. Kids tend to roll their eyeballs, cover their ears and otherwise try to drown out the sound of these talks, but parents often continue – sometimes louder and more forcibly – because the messages are so important to instill. However, there is a far more successful and easier way to get the point across: using story telling.

If your moral lessons seem to sometimes be falling on deaf ears, consider the following tips for teaching values the story-telling way:

Why Stories?
Most adults recall fables and stories they heard repeatedly in childhood. Sometimes they remember just a line from the tale – remember young George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree”. (Apparently George Washington never said this at all, but it doesn’t matter – we all learned the lesson!) What is relevant is that children are very receptive to stories and parables, so much so that they often remember them for their entire lives.

This is why psychologists recommend reading and telling stories to children. Aside from giving parents an excellent opportunity to bond with their kids, stories appeals to children’s imagination and love of make-believe. Stories – whether pure fiction or reality-based – speak the language of children, making them the perfect vehicle for teaching lessons and values. In fact, trying to teach values head-on by simply telling kids what is good and what is bad, just DOES NOT work. Sure, it’s important to tell the truth, but saying so does not compare in the least to hearing the tale of little George Washington’s dilemma.

Use Children’s Books, News Items, Blogs and Other Sources of Information
Visit your local children’s bookstore or library and look for books “with a message” – nowadays it’s easy to find book with both covert and openly educational agendas. For instance, there are books about the importance of honesty, kindness, respect and so on. In addition, search for fictional or autobiographical stories that convey important values or have relevance to your child’s unique challenges. For example, you might find a book about an inventor who finally invented something significant after years and years of failed experiments – thereby teaching the value of perseverance. Consult your local librarian, a teacher or child psychologist for specific recommendations of value-laden stories.

Older kids and teens can easily learn moral lessons from exploring events occurring in the world around them. Read or relay items from the news and current events, opening them up for discussion.

Ask Questions
To help your child get the most out of information you are presenting, ask questions, make comments and generally help to explore the issues. Should a person risk his own life to help someone else? What should a person do with the millions of dollars they win in the lottery? How bad is it really to download products without paying for them? Don’t just read stories; start a discussion!

Tell the Same Story More Than Once
Children’s stories are so effective in influencing the way children behave, because they are stories that kids love to hear or read again and again. Repetition can work for you; it can reinforce the value that you want to teach your child. Repetition also gives you opportunities to explore aspects of a story you missed the first time. And if your kid is not yet open to the values you were teaching first time around, repetition is an opportunity to see if you both have had a change of opinion.

Make it Practical
When real-life situations arise, refer back to the stories and discussions you’ve had. “I know it’s hard to tell the truth – but remember the courage of George Washington? Can you be like him right now?” Bringing the stories into current moral challenges helps imprint them permanently in the mind; they become powerful lessons and resources that can be called upon again and again throughout life.

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