Story Telling: Path to Healthy Kids

Story Telling: Path to Healthy Kids
Salar A. Khan Internist Chicago, Illinois

Salar Khan, MD, MBA, FACA, FCCP, DTCD, MCPS, worked as an Attending Internal Medicine and Pulmonologist at Karachi, Pakistan 1985-87. Dr. Khan also worked as an Attending Internal Medicine and Pulmonologist, Chief of Medicine, Chief of Staff and Acting Hospital Director, Al-Midhnab General Hospital, Under Ministry of Health,... more

Story telling can be a vehicle for parents to bond with their children, while at the same time instill timeless, moral values and cherished character traits. It is often said that the quality of time spent is better than the quantity of time spent; making a 10 minute story is a great way to directly connect to our children in the fast-paced world we live in.

Storytelling has been a tradition as old as human history. The stories of Aesop come to mind. The goals have often been to teach a moral lesson and to pass on wisdom. In some ways, it is a dialogue carried from the past and echoed into the future.

However, I want to ask you to take this dialogue a step further. Rather than simply repeating traditions and folklore of old, tell a story that relates to you in some way. In other words, relate something that is personally meaningful and so when you tell the story to your kids they can sense your own enthusiasm and connection. This was the exact formula that I followed, when I would tell stories to my kids when they were young. My inspiration came from my own childhood, stories that my mother told and my own personal experiences. I would spin stories about a grandmother dealing with mischievous monkeys of many different colors and with many different traits. Monkeys that worked together, setting aside their differences and towards a common goal. Often for a mischievous purpose perhaps for which the grandmother would scold them; still they learned to accept each other and become better monkeys. My children would listen, hanging on to every word, and every action these characters that came to life in their imagination. Even when my eyes would be tired and my mind drained, I could always count on my youngest son to shake me and ask, “What happens next?” Eyes brimming with excitement and enthusiasm that could hardly be contained in his small frame. Often, it was the only motivation I needed to continue. 

Children are imbued with curiosity and are often the gateway to critical thinking. A story explores distant worlds and connects with characters different – yet somehow similar to us – all painted language. These stories are also not without benefit. Research by Dr. Lee, et. al, has shown that telling classic stories such George Washington and the Cherry Tree could instill in children good moral practices like telling the truth. As parents our job is to nurture these traits. However, we are often at the mercy of so much to do with very little time available.

This author notes that the memory of these kids is sharp and they remember these stories for the rest of their lives. Now that my kids are grown up, I can say that my kids have definitely instilled moral values such as compassion, honesty, and courage which have the power of advancing children’s minds. Now the question is what stories should we tell and how should we narrate them? In my experience, they don’t have to be complicated. If you can design a story from your own experiences or even a modified story you heard while growing up is sufficient. For you see, the most important thing is to be able to have fun with it. Parents should tell these stories on regular basis at bed time as a way to at least until they are 10 years of age. Although a story can be found and read at the click of a button on the Internet, the social and bonding experience of telling a story to one’s kids in person can’t be replaced.

Story time was a very special time for me and my sons because it was fun. It can help your child develop listening skills and get your undivided attention – a rarity in today’s day and age. As long as the storyteller is willing to weave stories, a child will always be ready to hear the simplest of them, traversing unforeseen destinations that only the imagination can capture.