My kids' friends call me the "Story Dad." Whenever there's a sleepover at our house, my children and their friends always clamor for a story. It's understood. No story -- no bedtime. I always relent.
I want more dads to become Story Dads. The time I've spent telling stories with my sons is one of the greatest treasures of my life. Storytelling is an easy way for fathers to spend quality time with their children, and the benefits to both dads and kids are countless.
As research shows, kids whose dads sing, tell stories, read and play with them show higher educational achievement and improved learning development. And fathers who get more involved with their kids in activities such as reading and storytelling build strong relationships with their children and other members of the family. Involved dads also feel more confident that they have something to offer in terms of parenting skills.
But when I try and convince other dads they can be storytellers, their first reaction is often: "I'm not that good with words," or, "that's something my wife is better at."
Their hesitation lasts only as long as it takes me to explain how easy storytelling is to learn. Then I see a light come on in their eyes and an eagerness to find an activity that's theirs alone to enjoy with their kids. More than one dad has told me, "I want to be more than a breadwinner!"
When dads tell me they don't know how to tell stories, what they're often saying is, they don't know how to talk with their kids, especially as their children grow older. Many dads just need a little guidance and encouragement to get started.
If you're interested in giving storytelling a try with your kids, here are three helpful hints:
First, make sure your storytelling is interactive.
That means, make up stories with -- rather than just for -- your children. A story means so much more to them when they can contribute to it and feel like a part of it. Besides, on nights when you can't think of a story idea, you'll need their help to come up with one.
A great way to start your story is by simply asking your children, "What do you want your story to be about?" From the very first question, you've gotten them involved in the story.
Second, take comfort in knowing you can't tell a bad story. It doesn't matter if your story isn't a prize winner. What matters to kids is that they get to spend uninterrupted time with you creating fun, fantastical stories.
Still, the first time you ask your children what they want their story to be about, they may answer, "We don't know." Without missing a beat, tell them to go with the very first idea that comes into their heads. Don't play it safe by waiting for a better idea to come along. When it comes to storytelling, there's no need to dip a toe in the water. Dive right in.
Finally, make your storytelling a regular activity.
I suggest telling stories to your children on weekend nights at first. As you gain confidence, you might want to expand your bedtime routine to more nights a week. What's important is that you make storytelling a regular part of your children's lives.
Storytelling can't be a family tradition if you try it only once or twice and never come back to it. Your children will help you here; they're always ready for a good story. It requires a commitment by parents, but I urge you not to think of it as a chore or obligation. Think of it as an investment in your child's development, well being, and happiness.
And do it for yourself. Before long, your kids' friends will be calling you a Story Dad.
John McCormick and his sons William and Connor are the authors of 'Dad, Tell Me A Story,' How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children (Nicasio Press 2010). For more information about family storytelling, visit the authors' website and blog at http://DadTellMeAStory.com, or read their regular posts on The Parent Network at http://ptvn.org.