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Start a storytelling tradition at home

After publishing my first book on family storytelling and parenting over a year ago, many friends and readers have asked me, especially around Father’s Day, to offer my advice to new dads. My first reaction is, “I wouldn’t presume,” because as the father of two boys—ages 14 and 11—I’m still learning the ropes myself.

So I’ll refrain from offering any advice. But what I will do is give other fathers – especially those dads just starting out – one practical suggestion that, if followed, will transform their relationships with their children: Start a storytelling tradition at home.

I did that some 14 years ago, and the time I’ve spent since telling stories with my sons is one of the greatest treasures of my life. It’s given me lasting memories with my boys, and insights about them I’d never have otherwise.

Storytelling is an easy way for fathers to spend quality time with their kids, and the benefits to both dads and kids are countless.

As research shows, kids whose dads sing, tell stories, read and play with them show higher educational achievement and improved learning development. And fathers who get more involved with their kids in activities such as reading and storytelling build strong relationships with their children and other members of the family. Involved dads also feel more confident that they have something to offer in terms of parenting skills.

For children, storytelling connects them to their own culture and language. Every culture in the world has a storytelling tradition, and through stories, we connect our children to the generations that came before and the rituals and customs they established.

Storytelling also allows children to experience the power of the spoken word, instilling in them great communication skills and a love of reading. Storytelling allows kids to be active, encouraging them to conjure up their own mental images and, in the process, stimulates creativity and imagination. And it creates a sense of empathy with others.

Best of all, creating stories with your kids is easier to do than you think. It doesn’t require parents to be clever or gifted speakers; the only requirement is that they have a genuine interest in their children’s well-being, development and happiness (and what parent doesn’t?). If you’re interested in giving storytelling a try with your kids, here are three helpful hints:

First, make sure your storytelling is interactive. That means, make up stories with – rather than just for – your children. A story means so much more to them when they can contribute to it, and feel a part of it. Besides, on nights when you can’t think of a story idea, you’ll need their help to come up with one.

A great way to start your story is by simply asking your children, “What do you want your story to be about?” From the very first question, you’ve gotten them involved in the story.

Second, take comfort in knowing you can’t tell a bad story. It doesn’t matter if your story isn’t a prize winner. What matters to kids is that they get to spend uninterrupted time with you creating fun, fantastical stories.

Still, the first time you ask your children what they want their story to be about, they may answer, “We don’t know.” Without missing a beat, tell them to go with the very first idea that comes into their heads. Don’t play it safe by waiting for a better idea to come along. When it comes to storytelling, there’s no need to dip a toe in the water. Dive right in.

Finally, make your storytelling a regular activity. I suggest telling stories to your children on weekend nights at first. As you gain confidence, you might want to expand your bedtime routine to more nights a week. What’s important is that you make storytelling a regular part of your children’s lives.

Storytelling can’t be a family tradition if you try it only once or twice and never come back to it. Storytelling requires a commitment by parents, but I urge you not to think of it as a chore or obligation. All South Africans have rich, longstanding traditions of storytelling that are part of their cultural practices.

In South Africa, parents and children are passionate about telling stories. So use your culture’s natural love of storytelling to inspire your kids to read, write, and most importantly, to tell stories with you. If you do, it’ll be the best present you could give to yourself and your families this Father’s Day and every day of the year.

John McCormick and his family live in Washington, DC. He and his sons William and Connor are the authors of “Dad, Tell Me A Story,” How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2010). For more information about family storytelling, visit the authors’ website and blog at, or read their regular posts on The Huffington Post at and The Parent Network at

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