Healthy Parenting – Storytelling: The Path to Healthy Kids

Salar Ahmed Khan, MD, MBA

Healthy Parenting – Storytelling: The Path to Healthy Kids

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

Storytelling is a tradition as old as human history. The stories of Aesop may come to mind. The goals of those tales have often been to teach a moral lesson and to pass on wisdom. It is dialogue carried from the past and echoed into the future.

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. When you tell the story to your kids, they will sense your own enthusiasm and connection. This was the exact formula that I followed when I told stories to my kids when they were young. My inspiration came from my own childhood: from stories that my mother told and my own personal experiences.

I would spin stories about a grandmother dealing with mischievous monkeys of different colors and personalities, monkeys that worked together while setting aside their differences. Despite obstacles, they learned to accept each other and become better monkeys. My children would listen, hanging on to every word and every action. These characters came to life in their imagination. Even when my eyes would grow tired and my mind drained, I could always count on my youngest son to shake me and ask, “What happens next?” His eyes brimming with excitement and enthusiasm was the only motivation I needed to continue.  

Children are imbued with curiosity, the gateway to critical thinking. An effective story explores distant worlds and connects with characters different but similar to us all, using language to paint a vivid picture. Research by Dr. Lee et. al has shown that telling classic stories such as 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 little time available.

Now that my kids are grown up, I can say that they have embraced moral values such as compassion, honesty, and courage, which have the power of advancing young 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 modify a story you heard while growing up, that is sufficient. The most important thing is to be able to have fun. Parents should tell these stories on a regular basis at bed time at least until they are 10 years of age. Even though a story can be found and read at the click of a button on the Internet, the social and bonding experience of sharing a story with your children is irreplaceable.

Story time was a special time for me and my sons because it was fun – for me and for them. It can help your child develop listening skills and get your undivided attention, a sad 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.

About Dr. Khan 

Salar Ahmed Khan, MD, MBA, FACA, FCCP, DTCD, MCPS worked as an Attending Internal Medicine Physician and Pulmonologist at Karachi, Pakistan 1985-87, Chief of Medicine, Chief of Staff and Acting Hospital Director, Al-Midhnab General Hospital, Under Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia 1988-93, and as Associate Professor in Medicine with Baqai Medical College and Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan 1993-94. Dr. Khan, after earning his MBA degree in healthcare management in 1998 (US) has developed skill and experience in an academic institution. He oversees entire research administration, including research compliance, GCP Quality Compliance, research participant outreach programs, sponsored research programs, dealt with conflict of interest issues, and managed all aspect of clinical and laboratory research on animals in the Research and Development (R&D) Department at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center (JBVAMC), Chicago, IL since 2000. He is highly experienced in managing two academic affiliates of the JBVAMC; University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Northwestern University (NU), with high degree of efficiency and provided overall leadership & oversight, assisting day to day operations related to recent changes in the federal regulations pertaining to human research protection program (HRPP), and animal and research safety. Dr. Khan holds honors/awards including Leading Physician of the World--Doctors of Excellence, Top 100 Industry Experts in America, Chicago Federal Employee of the Year Award Finalist (2006), Service To America Medal Nominee 2006-2008, several JBVAMC Special Contributions/Incentive Awards, Spirit of the Jesse Brown Award nominee (2007-2015), Chicago Federal Employee of the Year Outstanding Team Award Nominee (Edgewater Medical Center), (2009, 2012, 2013), Best Hospital Employee of the Year (1997), and International Recognition: Saudi Arabia Under Ministry of Health: Best Hospital Administrator (1993), Enhancing Hospital Reputation (1992), Excellent Job Performance & Best Practices (1990), and Best Hospital Employee (1989).