A Guide for Sharing Family Stories with Young People

By Laura Roselle, PhD

Everyone needs stories, but they can be structured differently for different ages.

This week I'll share some information on how to structure stories for young people.

Elaine Reese's book, Tell Me a Story: Sharing Stories to Enrich Your Child’s World, describes how stories affect young people.[1]

For 5-8 year olds, children are ready for family stories if they are short and interactive. Don’t overwhelm them with too much. Asking the child open questions about the story can increase their engagement. For example, you might ask: "What do you think of that beard in the photo?" Children at this age are beginning to master the structure of stories. You can help them learn this by telling stories yourself!

For 8-12 year olds, your family stories are very important. As Reese notes: “If told in a compelling way and at an apt moment, preteens can use these stories to help them cope with events in their own lives.”[2] This can actually lead to “a stronger sense of self and better coping skills.”

Especially when talking about stressful or negative events, you can help preteens “create order out of chaos” by helping them identify the who, what, where, and when in the story. Most preteens are not yet skilled at resolving a negative story and you can help them there are well. Is there a lesson learned from the story? What happened after the story ended? From 8-10 years old, Reese recommends focusing more on positive aspects of positive events.[3] By 11-12 things change a bit and more negative events and feelings can be explored, still ending on a resolution or positive note.

Allow the child to interact in the storytelling, asking questions, making observations, etc.

And this is a great age for interviewing family members, scrapbooking, or building a photo album.[4] Reese sums it up saying: “Always remember: You are creating a memory bank of stories for your child to draw on in the teenage and young adult years when they will need stories desperately to guide them in difficult life decisions.”[5]

Twelve - 18 year olds need stories more than ever, but it may be harder to get those stories in. Teenagers are developing their own independence and identity, but they need and want a base and connection to those who came before them. Stories can be shared to make these connections and to share lessons while still focusing on the good. Even negative stories can end with a lesson learned. There is less focus for teens on what happened exactly and more attention to how people “felt, reacted, and interpreted the event.”[6]

Stories about grandparents and other family members may be especially important at this age, and sharing family trees may be interesting to teens! The key to sharing stories is to tell an applicable story at an appropriate moment. Reese writes that: “The right story told at the right moment could have a lasting, even lifelong effect on your adolescent ….. Teens want to hear these stories, and they remember them in vivid detail at times, even if they were only told once.”[7]

So, you can make a difference in the life of a young person.

Enjoy your storytelling!


[1] Reese, Elaine. Tell me a story: Sharing stories to enrich your child's world. OUP USA, 2013.

[2] Reese, 92.

[3] Reese, 110.

[4] Reese, 114.

[5] Reese, 114.

[6] Reese, 148.

[7] Reese, 149.

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