If we want our children to feel confident, are we using shame to discipline them? If we want our children to be courageous, are we telling them stories of how cruel the world can be? If we want our children to be open to connection, do we speak sceptically of others?
These are the pointed questions asked by Giuliana Fenech, children’s literature expert and a storytelling coach who has now developed an online programme.
By becoming aware of the stories we share with our families, we can observe if they honour the values, beliefs and behaviours we want to see in our children, Dr Fenech explains.
“We have to ask ourselves whether the stories we share in our families are enhancing the communication among ourselves but also with the wider world.”
Curious and Courageous, the new online programme developed by Dr Fenech, offers coaching and support to parents of 5- to 10-year-olds by helping them connect with their children through storytelling.
Christianne Briffa found these storytelling techniques as a means to tap into the innermost thoughts of her son and to strengthen their relationship.
“My son is a clever but somewhat reserved child. As verbal as he is about other topics, reflecting on his feelings is more difficult,” she says.
The programme helped her discover how he could engage with certain feelings through stories.
What I found to be unbearable was the sense of being alone
It would start with the son empathising with the characters, to inhabiting the story, to eventually applying it to himself.
What she also found interesting is how the process has a way of “growing in its own time”.
So, after a story-telling session, he might seem like he is not actually being responsive, only to return to it hours later, and sometimes even days later.
“I found the programme not only helped him verbalise thoughts and feelings, but helped me understand how my son processes them,” Ms Briffa says.
Dr Fenech says young children do not always know how to identify emotions or talk about them. However, their outward behaviour often stems from inner processing of emotion.
And if we do not understand this or find effective ways of observing our children’s experiences, we will not be able to understand and support our children calmly and confidently, she explains.
As a parent herself, Dr Fenech is speaking from experience when she says that parenting can be an isolating experience filled with self-doubt.
“The difficulties are numerous but what I found to be unbearable was the sense of being alone. The 3am cold sweats trying to figure out whether I had handled a situation with my children well.
“Or the hour-long searches trying to find a way to repair the damage I may have done because instead of listening and making my child feel valued, I turned away to deal with the hundred things on my to do list.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a good parent. It was just that I had a lot on my plate and I was exhausted.”
She realised just in time that she needed to shift negative stories into more curious and courageous ones.
Now her twins are teenagers and she is grateful for the stories they shared growing up.
“Firstly, because having shared stories means having shared memories, and that forms a lifelong bond, and, secondly, because the stories we tell become the lives that we live,” she says.
Parents are the most unsupported group of service providers that exists in all communities around the world, she says.
“I would like to do my part to change that.”