In a previous article, we mentioned that a child’s ability to “elaborate” can have profound effects on their development. This has to do with something called ‘childhood reminiscence’. When I first heard the term I imagined a circle of kindergartners in rocking chairs smoking stogies and talking about the old days. There’s more to it than that. Actually it’s nothing like that.
Reminiscence is when the child tells the story of their day or some scene from their day. When children are taught the skills of elaboration, it will affect their self-esteem and satisfaction later in life.
What Kind of Elaboration?
When a child shares their day, it should be more like Shakespeare and less like Cliff’s Notes. Elaboration isn’t just about the facts or details of the story; it’s about how the child interacts with them. Facts are too easy–even a dog could probably describe its day if it could talk. But a human, even a child, should give us so much more.
So what should we teach a budding Shakespeare? We could teach him that the characters of his story should have depth, conflicts, and feelings. The listener should feel both the dilemma and its resolution. There should be all of the emotions, decisions, and lessons that naturally arise from a good story.
Parents help them learn this by asking questions (often open-ended), that invite the story to unfold, for example:
“Tell me more about what happened”
How did you feel about it?”
”What was good about what happened? What part didn’t you like?”
“How would you do it different?”, etc.
Storytelling builds strength of character when the child describes THEIR UNIQUE RESPONSE to the event, how they felt, how they struggled, and what they took away from it. It’s through this elaborative storytelling that you teach a child to make their own sense of this world that, for all practical purposes, makes no sense at all.
On a practical note, author Lela Davidson offers some great tips on how to get these conversations going:
Why Don’t We Just Keep it “Light and Cheery” With our Kids’ Stories?
Shouldn’t we focus on the positive stories more than the negative ones? Won’t dwelling on the negative just create bad feelings? The answer is a surprising “No” and “No” again.
It turns out that the biggest boost to self-esteem is when kids learn to process and tell stories about the NEGATIVE events that happen to them. Talking about the positive stories doesn’t really help.
It turns out that the biggest boost to self-esteem is when kids learn to process and tell stories about the NEGATIVE events that happen to them.
But that’s not all. Thinking about (rather than sharing) the negative events leads to decreased happiness and thinking about the positive events leads to to more.
So in “storying” our experiences, we should express them deeply and honestly, hitting all the strong emotions and tough dilemmas. We should get it out there, express the pain and make some sense of it. And then, when we are left with the privacy of our mind, we should let it go. In our thoughts, the crowds of negative events should part and fall to the side, making way for the positive ones to come forward and take center stage. And if the negative ones won’t leave our mind? Then we let them leave our mouth and re-tell the stories again until they lose their grasp on our attention.