Peculiar moments, those we have, when telling made-up tales as bedtime stories to our children. I usually found myself in so many interesting dilemmas in the twist and turns of them, like: what should the elephant say to the lion that sends the right message about trust? Or what does the flower has to teach the bee, after a setback? Every night a new opportunity arises, with the child words: can you tell me a made-up tale? Yes, of course! And then we can both go on a journey of entertainment and life lessons that has to summarize a day in a few phrases turned into tale, but with the more important mission of making the main character feel good at the end, and the child to laugh in between.
Entertainment, creativity and wisdom mixed up so that the child enjoyment gets their minds open to bigger things.
After a few years of this exercise, you start to develop a taste for stories that summarize important life principles in a simple, short, and curiosity inspiring way. The paradox is that simplicity seems to be only achieved with great effort and complexity, and when reached, is easily recognized by anybody small or big, and even in made-up stories — I can testify on that.
A story is the most natural and simple way of communicating complex concepts. Since ancient times we have used stories to preserve wisdom from generation to generation, also to transmit rules, norms and beliefs that are important to a community and its heritage. A story sets the scene in a language that is common and known to the listener, and the dilemma of the characters is something that they easily can see themselves having to face in the future. Stories also convey feelings and emotions that are not easily described in words, but within the whole context of it any person can understand and feel empathy with. That is probably why they are best with children, as their vocabulary is simple but stories need not to; as long as they are easy of vocabulary to understand they child can get to understand very complex messages, feelings and situations without even yet grasping formal language.
Is interesting how once you understand the influence of stories in your children and their belief construction of what’s good or not; how the world works or doesn’t work; and the why of so many things, a choice in regards to what is the right course to veer them to, seems to be needed. Sounds simple, as is just parenting and teaching the good from the bad, isn’t it? But, what is the good from the bad among every individual? What is even the same among one family? The realization of influence in your children is both a matter to be proud and humble of, and sometimes even a little frighten about. Once you start defining moral principles for they to learn, the next question is whether you are living those yourself and are sufficiently capable of being and example to them, not only as a maker of stories, but as a real life actor of the decisions that show character, strength, and the values you try to instill in them.
Let’s assume you don’t plan outright what you think is important for your children to understand, and you just go naturally about it. As the child seems to be ready to understand lessons about sharing, kindness, love, jealousy, pride, and anger, let him or her figure their own judgment and only intervening when questioned. If the child veers to a path not known or wanted, it is not the parent fault is how it was destined to be — a very deterministic view of parenting. Others might even decide that life lessons, in mostly a verbal or written form are not effective in providing the message. Practical exposure to the problem first hand brings the issue forward, and the mistake or inaction from the child warrants the opportunity for an open mind that will understand the lesson as being learned on her own flesh and not from a distant parent learning. But, trying to teach everything from experience runs out of possible new situations quickly. Life is always more complex than what the parent can ever imagined it to be. A child best judgment will be called upon many times with no parent to help or intervene, and is in these moments that you hope they could understand the essence of your values and what means good from bad, but is in no way guaranteed. The worried parent, the one that believes is possible teaching any soul on how to live, will try to get their stories right and their messages together so the essence about morals is understood and ready by the time they will be required in a real life situation.
The part of the children tales that I like the most is where the character has to decide between conflicting things, short-term vs. long-term gratification or punishment, or my benefit compared to everybody’s benefit, money gains or losses vs. spiritual gains or losses. Defining moments in the story character judgment give children a safe playground to be exposed to these concepts and start forming a view on why they need to choose one over the other, and how many ways simple dilemmas like these ones might appear during their lives. In Sparta is said, books, formal knowledge and teaching about oratory were not necessary. Opposed to Athens, honor, courage, trust, and the value of one’s word was the main life teachings their young would get, the rest would be acquired if necessary by themselves, but the building of one’s morals needed to be on solid foundations.
Disregarding whether you are on the camp of parents who believe in molding or nudging their children to a particular direction, or believe destiny and nature will take its part and your role is more of a companion that allows them to learned own way; you always want the best for your children. Indeed, there might be a natural space for different approaches: On one hand, in a fast paced living where children are bombarded with messages left, right and center, and their lives might lack a minute of boredom to spark a search for something and nurture their curiosity, a parent that intervenes and get their children to enjoy themselves, their environment, their peers, and to stop and reflect a little on things, can be seen on just trying to give some balance to a world that could seem (to some parents) much biased in one direction, too much focus on outside things and very little in knowing oneself. On the other hand, not all settings are the same, and some live within communities, rural or urban, that allows their children the space and time to understand the messages of their environment, try things and make mistakes that are not life-lasting and learn from them in a first hand way what parents would have trouble matching just from words. Either way the parent is always trying to strike the right balance between teaching by doing and controlling, and teaching by just observing and allowing things to go out of control. The child benefits from always having somebody looking after them but not someone who will not let them get hurt enough so they can learn a few things themselves.
Some people say that you cannot teach your children how to be free. I say it is possible, but probably is the most difficult lesson to teach, because it means letting them go and learn with minimal control of consequences. But, if you are able to instill core beliefs on trust, honesty, courage, and humility no matter how big the defeat the child will find its way to safety, learning and conquering any challenge. Then it will be closer to free, the outside opinion and influences will be secondary, as one that knows itself can tackle obstacles with a different perspective. The parent job to spark the right attitude to life is done already.