August 26, 2011

Fostering Self-Esteem through Storytelling

In the days of today in which children get hooked on television, internet and videogames I believe it is of utmost importance to rescue important behaviours that together make a big difference in children development . One is communication and sharing in the family and at school. Many parents and teachers feel guilty because they can not dedicate themselves to the young ones as much as they would like. A powerful way to have quality time and to reach children is through storytelling. While telling stories we are able to look, touch, think, understand, and laugh together. As a consequence we develop a closer relationship with our children. This close relationship will help children feel more loved and able and to develop healthy self-esteem.

Storytelling is an experience in itself. More than just being involved and interested in the content and how a story is going to finish, storytelling creates a relationship. When asked of which stories we were read and told when we were little, many of us remember one or another favourite and what certainly all of us really remember is the warmth and cozyness of being told a story and the feeling that we were important and that someone dedicated this special time to be there with us. It is not by chance that Lewis Carroll called storytelling a love gift.

This love gift can help us build our self-esteem. But before continuing I´d like to share a good definition of what self-esteem is. It is the feeling we have about ourselves. We have high self-esteem when we feel loved and able. It develops through the life experiences children go collecting in their lives. Children value themselves in the same way significant people in their lives have treated them. Storytelling has many linguistic and social benefits and it can work in different areas which foster high self-esteem. Below I analyze these five different areas and the benefits brought through storytelling.

Sense of security: Storytelling prompts conversation and questions about routine happenings and hypothetical situations. It opens a door that might be blocked when we only talk superficially to their children giving commands and asking routine questions. We also provide quality listening time when we avoid making judgements and telling children what to do. Stories give security to children when they show that others have had similar problems to the ones children are facing and that have managed to find a solution. It also allows parents to provide instructions directly and convey acceptable and expected values and behaviour. Children must feel that they are accepted in the way they are and that they are physically and emotionally protected.

A way to promote security is to respect the needs of expression of  children. Storytelling can refine speaking skills, improve listening skills and empower children to relate better to the world expressing themselves and their feelings. It is important to accept during storytelling how the child feels, even if different than what you would like. Many children feel insecure because they do not know what might happen if they do something wrong. Some children for instance might think parents will not like them and even abandon them if they break a glass. Show logical natural consequences that have happened in the story: the character broke something and then he fixed it or cleaned it. This fosters the sense of responsibility. The child must not constantly worry about what is going to happen. Build the sense of trust and how characters have gained it or lost it.

Sense of identity: Telling stories allows us to interact with children at a personal level and both can identify positive and negative qualities in the characters in the story and how they have contributed to the character’s destiny. In this movement we teach children to identify their own abilities and abilities in others they would like to develop. Describe the abilities and qualities of a character and the child has to guess who you are talking about. You can describe the child´s abilities and cheat saying that you have chosen the child. It´s important to teach that we are all different and unique.

Critical and creative thinking skills are enhanced and give resource to the child fostering independence. It does also nourish children’s intuitive side, which helps in decision taking. Have an exercise in which you ask the child what the character is thinking and if it´s right or wrong. Children have a strong sense of identity when they like themselves and know who they are. It is important that parents and teachers seriously listen to what children have to say. The child’s image is formed in the way other people have treated and valued the child.

Sense of belonging: Children feel they are part of a larger community, starting with the family and school. Playing and working together as a family unit and at school build the sense of closeness a child needs. When they are comfortable with others they are able to better relate and to become members of other social groups. Children who are unsure of how others feel about them feel rejected or lonely.

Stories teach children that we live in society and how to be group members. They present social skills such as inviting, apologizing, asking for help, thanking, sharing, taking turns, which are essential for the child to be accepted in groups. Show the difference of uninterested help and helping expecting something in return. In this way we incentivate children to engage in service to others and when children feel they are contributing, their sense of belonging is strengthened.

Important concepts and values are better internalized through stories, instead of parents and teachers presenting them in a very rational way. Children will give more value to the story of Johnny who lost all his teeth than to mom saying that the child will have to go to the dentist. The child transfers the story context straight to his or her reality.

Share your family stories, build a sense of pride, and help children understand where they come from. Encourage them to tell their own stories to you and younger ones and to discover their own family roots. A common way to share is to tell short happenings reporting good and bad moments of the day. Here storytelling couldn’t be more realistic! Start out your sharing traditions!

Sense of purpose: Try working with stories in which you do not show pictures and have your child listen to the story with eyes closed. Storytelling helps with imagination and visualization, which are essential in the process of goal setting. When we dream and visualize we are making a mental plan, thinking of steps and actions necessary to achieve a goal. Help children identify character’s goals in the story and establish ways in which they can achieve them. In this way we lead children to have goals and find ways to achieve them. Ask: “ Why is the hen planting the seeds ?”

Positive endings show children that it is rewarding to have an objective and work hard and that things will turn out to the good. There are many books that convey values in very different ways. A second great benefit is the interest in reading. Let our child choose books and suggest stories for your child to read on his or her own. Incentivate building a library.

Sense of personal competence: We develop the sense of competence through feedback of others on how we do things. Share with them the sense of accomplishment of a character who has achieved a goal. Play that you are one of the characters and congratulate your child for the outcome, let your child also congratulate you. Pay attention that you are giving specific feedback instead of a ‘well done’, which doesn´t help the child to know what he or she did right. Let children retell you the story and identify the process and how successes have happened. Plot what the character has achieved so far.

Stop in moments and incentivate the child to think of alternatives to solve the situation and to identify what needs to be done. Avoid the temptation to tell your child what you would do or believe is best. The child gets the feeling of personal competence by learning how to solve problems independently. With these skills they can accomplish anything that comes their way. As a consequence children know that they are able and confidently face situations in which they do not have the solution at first.

Storytelling is something that we must bring back to the lives of our children. It develops the essential feeling of partnership and we are able to address important areas of self-esteem such as the senses of security, identity, belonging, purpose and personal competence. Let’s remember that we can build self-esteem in ourselves and our children by the way we look, talk, and relate to them. It is also done by the expectations we set, and by the kinds of experience we allow them to have. Storytelling is definitely one of these experiences. We are all storytellers and we can start today. I guarantee that the result is very rewarding: children with high self-esteem are eager to learn, get along with others, enjoy new challenges, and live in peace.

Wish you memorable moments in your storytelling!

A big frog-hug,


Check also Storytelling tricks: interviewing and personalizing

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  1. Food for thought indeed. Am sharing it with colleagues straightaway. Thumbs up!

    1. Hi María Inés!
      Just saw your comment now. Thank you for your feedback and for sharing the magic!

      Send you a frog-hug!



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