In November of 2016 I wrote about the power of family stories and shared my family’s Thanksgiving experience as my Aunt Lee told of her Holocaust survival experiences and her live-in aide shared similar experiences living through the civil war in Liberia.

This month I’ll tell you about some interesting research linking family story-telling style to self-esteem in preadolescents and offer my thoughts on the ramifications for raising children within a context of family wealth.

Bohanek et al (2006) in their article, “Family Narrative Interaction and Children’s Sense of Self”, discuss “three narrative interaction styles that describe the extent to which families discuss or fail to discuss their past in integrated and validating ways.” They are:

Coordinated Perspective – These conversations involve parents and kids taking turns sharing thoughts and feelings about a family story. No one person dominates. Parents help their kids think through various aspects of the story and its deeper meaning by asking questions and encouraging kids to talk about their own reactions. Parents engage kids to better understand their own perspective and those of other family members as well as how the child and his/her ideas fit into the bigger family picture. This is not done in a lecturing manner but through back and forth exchange; the creation of meaning is done collaboratively.

Individual Perspective – Families mainly using this narrative style tend to have a parent take the lead by asking questions that tend to lead kids in a specific direction (even if done unintentionally) and encourage a child’s response, often one child at a time. Families using this style tend not to integrate the various perspectives into a cohesive family view and do not have the collaborative and unifying experience of the coordinated style described above.

Imposed Perspective – When families tend toward the imposed perspective one parent usually dominates and controls the flow and content of discussion and may ignore other family members’ opinions. Rather than facilitating a discussion these parents turn the discussion into a lecture and family members are allowed to disrespect one another subtly and overtly. These families are “controlling and unsupportive” and rarely acknowledge the views of children. There is little to no collaboration.

Not surprisingly, only the coordinated narrative style related to high self-esteem. There is great power in encouraging children to contribute to story-telling, which helps the child understand their version and the perspectives of others and while putting it into a cohesive family context – all within a supportive and loving environment. It is probably not shocking that the imposed perspective does not relate to higher self-esteem and likely has harmful effects on kids.

I and others have written about the challenges of raising motivated children of character within a family wealth context. The great news is that there are many simple ways to achieve that goal and foster family unity as well. Family story-telling from a “coordinated perspective” is surely one of them.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.