Tell a success story to your child
The Kansas City Star
When I was teaching sociology courses in 1990s, there were a few Jewish boys who were the top students in my class. Still, they wanted to be better than the best.
Once I asked one of them, “You are already the best in the class. Why do you still work so hard?”
He answered, “You know, since God gave me such a smart head, I would waste it if I didn’t use it.”
With this kind of belief, that boy would without a doubt be No. 1 no matter where he goes in the future. Sociologists call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
That is, if you believe you can do it because you are smart, you will act on that belief by working hard. And of course, the hard work will reward you with good grades, top prizes, and more advancements, which will further confirm your belief.
As a teacher and a parent, I have marveled over the power of believing. Still, I wondered, how did this idea get into his head? Who told him God had given him a smart head instead of a dumb one?
We all know it was not from God directly. It was most likely from his parents or rather from the stories that his parents told him when he was little. It was the effect of this story that motivated him to work hard.
We all write our own story with our life’s experiences. Our stories all start from our first home, with our parents being the first narrators.
In a broad sense, the stories that parents tell children shape the way children see the world.
Furthermore, these stories embody the values that parents hold and hope to pass on to their children. Sociologists call this social construction of reality. That is, we live in a world that is initially constructed by our parents and is taken over by us as we grow older.
These stories are like any other stories that we are familiar with since our childhood. They always have heroes or heroines who are expected to take a journey or reach a goal or fulfill a promise or live up to an expectation. They invariably follow one of the master plots of all novels — the hero takes a journey.
These stories make up a large part of one’s childhood experiences. The memories of these experiences will continuously be interpreted by the child as he grows older.
They lay the foundation of beliefs about oneself, creating the child’s general sense of competence or incompetence. These experiences are eventually translated into a set of assumptions about oneself and an explanation of why one succeeds or fails.
When my son was little, I taught him math. As the result, he could do multiplication when he first entered school. When he got good grades, I then told him it was because he was smart.
“If you are smart, you are supposed to be ahead so that you can help those lagging behind,” I explained. With this story, he has lived up to expectations and has graduated from college with a major in mathematics. Even if, at some point in his life he is behind others, with this story in mind, he is more likely to see himself as intelligent and capable.
This practice of storytelling is not a modern invention. Humans started spinning yarns to embellish reality since the most remote past. God gives different gifts to different kids. Each kid needs to be told of the special gift that God gives to him. It is up to the parent to start a good story for the child.
Good stories are crucial in forming high self-esteem, infusing excitement into a child’s journey and motivating him to work hard for a bright future. Conversely, nothing ruins a child’s self-confidence and exerts long-term damage on his life more than starting his life with no story at all, or with one that is discouraging.
Yanwen Xia grew up in China and worked as a reporter at China Daily. She has taught at several colleges and currently works in a research section at University of Kansas Hospital/Kansas City Cancer Center. She lives in Overland Park. To reach her, send email to email@example.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.