A Path to Story, Ch. 10: Storytelling VS. Spank&yelling

One part of the role we have as parents is to discipline our children. This has become a very complicated subject in recent decades. The Bible makes it very simple, Proverbs 13:24. However, stories are told of parents who cruelly and wickedly misuse this verse and subsequently get their kids taken away by CPS.

For parents who actually love their kids and see the need they have for their parents to appropriately discipline them, I encourage you to consider adding storytelling to your Disciplinarian Role Kit. Other common tools in the DRK are grounding, taking prized possessions away, time out, etc. and these work very well, especially in a culture overwhelmed with stuff. What if there is a way to help your kids see further down the path to where their decisions are taking them? And what if you don’t have time or the opportunity to visit a prison or a morgue? Utilizing storytelling to give them a proper vantage point can be a very cost and time effective approach.

I know I am not an authority on the subject, I only know what works for my kids. They respond very well to story, so when I can use it, I do. For example, this morning one of my kids woke up very grumpy and when my wife tried to convince him to come out and get ready for the day, he growled at her and refused. We’ve all felt like that before, but I couldn’t let him treat her that way. So I looked at him sternly and told him he doesn’t get to act that way toward his mom.

It’s at this point that I feel I need to bring in some context. It is of great importance to me that my kids feel safe and are confident in our home. It is not a place of fear, but of love, fun, and adventure. Yes, at appropriate times and levels that love gets fierce, but it is never to demean or destroy them as a person. Because of that, my kids trust me. And at times like the one this morning, all I had to do was give him a look and a few words of correction. He immediately got out of bed, started getting ready, and apologized to his mom.

When my son came back in the room, he climbed up on my lap. I wanted to make sure he understood what was appropriate behavior so I told him a story about a bear:

There once was a bear who lived in a forest. Bear was known as one who liked his sleep. And this morning, it took the whole forest to wake him up. When they finally did, it turned out he was wearing his grumpy pants and he growled at everyone. They all scattered for a moment but eventually came back because Bear just had to get out of bed and get started with the day. They encouraged him to change his pants from grumpy to soft and cuddly. All the forest creatures just loved the hugs they’d get from Bear. They needed one from him so they could start their own day.

At least that was as close as I can remember. I’m sure there’s probably some kind of problem with this story, but for my son, when I told of how the bear changed his pants, he wanted me to say, “Bear ripped them off and threw them away.” It’s very likely that we won’t be seeing a grumpy boy in the morning anytime soon.

It doesn’t take long to tell a story, and when you do, you get to watch them think and soak it in. This can be an effective over-the-long-haul approach that you can use along with your other DRK tools. If you ever need to, you can bring up your story again as a warning like I can with mine, “Now don’t act like Bear with his grumpy pants on.” Just beware of the times when you wake up grumpy. Kids can be some of the best first responders, “You sound like Bear with his grumpy pants on, Dad.” Yes, at times my kids use my stories against me, but it actually makes me even more proud of them when they do.

I try to incorporate storytelling in many of the teaching moments for my kids. I have found that they learn whatever it is I’m trying to teach them in what seems to be a deeper way. The more complete the story, the more completely they remember and connect with it. If I just slap one together, it won’t connect with anybody, mainly because it didn’t connect with me and I don’t fake interest very well.

When disciplining your child, know that storytelling can be an option. Interactive storytelling, when you mix the story with a question/answer time, is a creative way to let them have ownership over what they need. I’ll try to get into this later, right after I fulfill a request from my wife by writing a chapter titled: Survival by Storytelling- Escaping the Grand Canyon.

A Path to Story, Ch. 9: Cherry Picking

I told a story this morning to help get things moving. No weird moods today, just attempting to help them focus. I visited the Cinderella story again. It is a popular one for my daughter, and for my sons, I merely have to add weapons or go silly. This morning I went for silly.

Sometimes it helps to be an antagonist. Mornings can have a little bit of stress to them. You got to get ready for the day doing stuff you may not want to do. So I often target times like that and try to hit them up with something fun, especially for my wife and kids. I grabbed a familiar storyline with characters my kids enjoy and played with it.

When picking from a story your kids like, it’s not enough to just grab the characters or even the plot. This is something I failed to mention earlier but to me, it’s where you begin that can really grab their attention. In most stories there is a unique moment, usually, it’s some kind of plot twist, that’s where I like to begin. You are vicariously tapping into the moment the original story spent its entire time cultivating. Back in my school days playing basketball, we called this “cherry picking”. And as you cherry pick your kids’ favorite story, you immediately tap into the power that is there. Plot twists are also a good place to go your own way because all you need to do to fix whatever mess you’ve made is to return to where the original story took it. For example, this morning’s story:

I began in the garden when Cinderella was crying. The Fairy god Mother, or FgM from now on, was having difficulty with her wand, (slight change). It had some kind of short in it. Sparks were shooting everywhere, and the FgM found that due to the sparks, her aim was a bit off. She accidentally BBB’d a frog who was just about to eat a fly, (beginning diversion). The frog turned into a dashing young man who, out of frustration, immediately began to berate the FgM. Turns out, he had a girlfriend frog who was sitting right next to him and they were on a date before he was turned into a man. The fly, on the other hand, was doing a jig because even though the frog-turned-man was still trying to eat it, he didn’t have the frog tongue to get it with. Oh things got pretty complicated after that, what with the frog-turned-man shouting, Cinderella crying because she didn’t have her gown yet, (hint toward original story and where to return to), the fly dancing around in joy, the wand sparking, and the frog-man’s girlfriend croaking, the FgM finally called a halt to everyone, (fully out from the original as far as I was going to go this morning). She pulled out an alternate wand with new batteries and BBB’d the whole group shouting, “Bippity Boppity Booyah!”. (Basically bringing it all back, and cleaning it up by restoring everyone to “normal” and giving Cinderella her gown.)

That, along with the lightsaber version mentioned earlier, are examples of “cherry picking” from the Cinderella story. In that amount of time, my kids had eaten their breakfast, brushed their teeth, put on their coats, gloves, and backpacks and were ready to go.

Mornings don’t have to be painful. They can be a time of fun that the whole family can look forward to.  Would you like some ice cream with those cherries?

A Path to Story, Ch. 8: Moods

I don’t know if your kids display different moods in an almost random fashion but sometimes mine do. Due to a crazy journey in life, I had the opportunity to be the stay-at-home parent for the first four years of my kids’ lives. During that time I got to know each of them pretty well: how they played, what made them angry, what made them laugh, when they would cry, and what their different cries actually meant.

This morning our youngest, who is our funny guy, was very solemn. He even put his head down on his arms, not because he was tired, but more like he was sad. Both my wife and I asked him about it, but time was running short and they had to get to school. Maybe that was it, my kids like school for the most part, but he likes the weekend more and has had tough times switching gears. Either way, he hadn’t touched his breakfast yet and his siblings were halfway through theirs.

At times like this parents utilize different methods to get their kids to do what they need to do: Some threaten punishment, some make it a competition, some try to reason with them explaining what will happen if they don’t do it. Back when they were younger, I would make the spoon dance to their mouths to get them to eat. This morning, I resorted to storytelling.

“Once upon a time, there was a prince who was so very sad…” I went on to tell how no one knew why he was so sad. The villagers tried different things to make him happy- tickling, making a yummy breakfast, making a huge slide from the top of the castle, etc… There was a lot that happened in the story in just a few minutes. As the prince got happier and started laughing my son had returned to what I consider to be his normal self. And when I looked down, his plate was clean.

Parents, for the most part, do what we have to do to get things done.  And again, for the most part, if we are wise there is no need to judge each others’ tactics.  Time will tell what was successful or what was not with the variety of our children’s characters and temperaments.  And yet parents will be firmly judged, for we are the ones most responsible for the future.  I’m not writing a “How To” on parenting, I’m offering a tool that is too much fun to keep to myself.  I know for mine, I enjoy making life fun for them.  And personally, I enjoy the challenge to create something- a story or a song, that helps them along.

I do want to encourage others to utilize storytelling in their arsenal for parenting. If you want your kids to want to do something correctly, if you are tired of trying the same old thing, fighting the same old battle of wills, give storytelling a try. It doesn’t come with any kind of money back guarantee, but maybe it will make you and your kids smile a little more. It may even help to make your home a place where the whole family actually wants to be.

I wonder if faith isn’t the only thing that can move mountains…

A Path to Story, Ch. 7: On the Road

One of my favorite times to tell stories with my kids is during a road trip. While many of the newer mini-vans are equipped with DVD players complete with multiple screens to help entertain the family, I’ve found that storytelling, with a captive audience, can be as equally entertaining if not more. An example of this was during our Thanksgiving trip to my wife’s relatives. I think one-way, complete with a rest stop was about 1hr 30min. It wasn’t super long at all, but just enough to get something started. Before we began, I thought maybe we were going to tell one for a couple minutes till the kids fell asleep. But I was surprised to find that we told the same story all the way there and all the way back, rest stops included.

The best thing about stories on the road is you don’t have to come up with everything yourself. It’s very similar to using your kids’ favorite characters from shows they enjoy. You don’t have to create them, it’s already done. You are merely incorporating them into something new. When traveling, let the road tell the story. Your only responsibility may be to keep the story intact. Each new place, car, and building can be your characters. It’s funny how well things will fit into the story you’re telling.

Our story began as we traveled down a road near our house that went between a military base and a bioengineering plant. Naturally, the military base side of the road became home to a power hungry, weapon-bearing, world-dominating general, and the bioengineering plant side was home to mad scientists. As soon as we started, everything from electric towers to nondescript factory-type buildings became incorporated into the plot. We would duck down and hide while sneaking past both groups. We watched out for snipers and were careful of any gas attacks that if breathed would make you crazy. In case of such an attack, we would shoot missiles back at enemy encampments, hold our breath, and tell the driver to get us out of there fast. I would use the electronic dials- radio/ac, etc. in the front of the van as the command center. We would listen in on top-secret conversations between the general and the scientists when we would pass by telephone towers that spanned the road we were on. Bridges would block us from any military helicopters and would momentarily scramble their search signal long enough for our escape. It was a full-on interactive story, where everyone and everything played a part.

My kids’ imaginations were engaged and they would shout out warnings of impending enemy attacks. They weren’t just looking out the window to pass the time, they were a part of an elite team sent to infiltrate enemy territory. Depending on which side of the car even the rest stop building was determined which camp it was associated with. The story had a plot twist as on the way back the sides were switched. We celebrated as we victoriously passed by both the base and the plant on our way home. It was a close one.

Some people like road trips to be quiet and meditative, if you’re one of those or are in a mood, use the DVD and get your kids some headphones. As for me, I see too many benefits of storytelling to not do it. I’d rather have them look out their window than at a screen any day.

A Path to Story, Ch. 6: A Trail Mix of Story

When telling stories to my kids, my favorite mediums to use are characters they already know and enjoy. A couple days ago, I told them a story that even this morning they incorporated into their imaginations.  I love it when my kids do this; I feel like I’m truly giving them something. When you don’t have money and your health limits you, tell stories. You can take them anywhere, do anything, and have everything.

A couple days ago I combined two stories that my kids really liked. I started in Cinderella’s world when she was in the garden after her step-sisters had destroyed the dress she was planning on wearing to the ball and her Fairy-godmother appeared. Only this time the stepmother and stepsisters were still there picking on Cinderella. And instead of her magic wand only being used to make a new dress etc., the Fairy-godmother hit a secret button, and suddenly a familiar sound beamed forth. A familiar lightsaber sound. The stepsisters quickly threw on dark cloaks and beamed forth their own red ones, and of course, the stepmother became the lightning shooting Emperor-like character to the Fairy-godmother’s Yoda-like one.

Why did I do this? Well, as a parent, you notice when your kids are engaged or not. And though my daughter is a fan of the Cinderella story and is never tired of it, my boys had an almost “here we go again” kind of expression. So I knew I had to do something. It didn’t hit me till I changed the story they knew to make it fresh for them, and for me too honestly. Have the Fairy-godmother fight with the stepsisters! And when she busted out her wand it hit me, I heard the piercing buzz of the Jedi weapon and it was on.

When I looked up to see their reaction, my daughter had a smile (it was important that she approved since it was her favorite story I was tampering with), and my boys cheered. They let me know I stuck the landing. This morning my kids were playing with pencils they received as awards for excellence at school. First, they were magical wands and then instantly they became lightsabers.

It’s just plain fun people. You don’t need all the new toys, video games, etc. Just a willingness to play and this is something all the stores in America don’t want you to know. They actually thrive off of parents who don’t have time for their kids.

So tell a story, take time to turn off everything, and play with your kids. Obviously, I’m not anti-movies since both the stories I used were ones my kids have seen, and you don’t have to be. I’m merely hoping to help arm parents with tools to make it more fun for everyone. Being a parent is awesome and for the time we’ve been given, we each get the chance to make it what we want it to be.

May the force be with you, Cinderella.