Do your kids know where you went to high school? Have they heard the story of how their grandparents met? Do they know the national background of their family, such as what countries their relatives lived in before arriving in the United States?
Turns out that knowing such things, and most importantly, knowing them through family stories, can be very beneficial for kids.
I came across the research of Professor Marshall Duke at Emory when researching kids and genealogy. Some of the important findings in his research include:
* Children who know about their family’s history have both a stronger their sense of control over their lives and higher their self-esteem; and
* Knowing stories about relatives helps kids be more resilient;
* Following the attacks of September 11, Dr. Duke found that the kids who knew the most about their family could better moderate the effects of the stress.
One important point: Don’t make the stories all unicorns and rainbows.
While you should certainly talk about and celebrate family accomplishments and good times, also tell your kids the tough stories. The stories of when family members came upon hard times, made mistakes, or got sick are hugely important for kids to know.
“We were very surprised to find that stories of bad things are even more important than good things. Knowing that ones family overcame major troubles and still carried on is one of the major contributors to resilience,” Dr. Duke told me when we spoke
He noted that all generations and people overcome problems.
Talking about stories of relatives who have made it through hardship “helps children to realize that they belong to a family group that can and does rose above things. This gives them strength and faith in their own ability to be like their parents and grandparents and other relatives,” he said.
This motivated me to tell my daughter about a story about my great-great grandmother whose husband died. She was left with 5 children and no way to support them all. She gave them up to an orphanage in town. She then got a job at the orphanage, which ensured that she saw her children every day even if they were no longer able to live together.
While I always thought that woman was ingenious, the idea of seeing your children but no longer having them under your roof broke my heart. I’d never told my daughter, both because it didn’t seem like there was a good reason and because it seemed just so sad.
Thinking about this research helped me reframe it, both for myself and my daughter. Of course it was hard and sad, but the family did the very best they could. They found a solution and while not ideal, it was certainly better than not seeing each other. It worked. They worked.
I hope I planted the seed that we are here because of their strength, that she comes from strong stock.
You can also find the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions here.
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