When tucking in your kids, begin with, “Once upon a time,” and then slowly narrate the day you spent together from morning until present time, e.g., “Once upon a time, Penny woke up to the sun, called for her mum, and gave her a hug. Then, they ate banana pancakes and drummed on the counter with forks …”
This is something you might have done with your kids before. The activity is silly and sweet, and you get to laugh about that one time (three hours ago) when your child spilled an entire box of Peanut Butter Puffins on the floor. But the ritual of telling your kid a story about their day, every day, can be subtly powerful as well. As Loechner notes, a nightly narration can give children a “sense of completion” after a full day and “offer space for connection.”
Even more than this, there’s a sense of calmness that comes with the practice of viewing your life as a story—triumphs, blunders and all. I know that thinking of myself in the third person can help me control my emotions, allowing me to have some psychological distance from my daily crises.
(“Michelle is feeling overwhelmed but she’s going to try focusing on one task at a time”—it is the dorkiest, but it’s effective.)
What if we help our kids do this, too? What if we pay close attention to all the big and little ways they’re learning, persevering and choosing kindness, and then add these details to their daily narratives, which they can hear and internalize?
A bedtime story about your kid might sound something like this:
Once upon a time …
… Ricky’s little brother knocked down his Lego structure and he was angry at first but then he understood that toddlers are still learning how to be careful.
… Edie did all her chores without being reminded.
… Tara was nervous about her class presentation on butterflies but she practiced seven times in front of her parents and now has it memorized.
(Make sure to mix the “lessons” in with more mundane details of their day—you don’t want to overdo it.)
Once you tell these stories regularly, your kids might start seeing themselves as the heroes of their own tales, and act accordingly. They’ll learn that bright spots can be found in any day if they look hard enough, and there are always opportunities to change the ending. Eventually, your narration will be replaced with their own inner voice.