How Much your Kids Know About Your Family Narrative Matters

Kara Powell | Apr 1, 2013

My grandfather’s garbage disposal created a cascade of garbage in the backyard.

My mom cheated my dad out of the last piece of See’s candy (if you know my mom’s love for good chocolate, that doesn’t surprise you).

These were some of my favorite stories growing up. I loved hearing them—again and again.

I’m not alone. Most kids love hearing stories of family members’ past experiences. Recent research indicates that children who know more about their family’s narratives tend to do better. Here’s a description of some recent findings described in a New York Times article:

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned…

(Researchers) developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

Given our Sticky Faith findings about the power of intergenerational relationships, our team was especially struck by this conclusion: Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

Based on the data, it seems that it’s wise for parents to:

  1. Talk about their challenges, and how they’ve overcome them with God’s help.

  2. Talk about those times when they’ve felt especially blessed.

  3. Take advantage of family vacations as opportunities to share stories. It’s often those relaxed times around campfires or during long car drives that are most conducive to sharing narratives.

  4. Invite other family members to be part of the process. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and other relatives can help weave the web of your family narrative.

What other ideas have helped you instill in kids a sense of their family narrative and history?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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