Stories and Folktales: Tools for Life Skills
I would like to share a folktale that my grandfather narrated once that stayed with me.
Once there was a man who was walking back to his home village along with his son after buying a donkey. During the journey, a passer-by commented, how foolish, one of you could ride the donkey. Taking the advice seriously, the son sat on the donkey. After some distance, another one exclaimed, oh god, the old father is walking and the young son is riding! The son requested his father to ride with him as well. Further away another scoffed, poor donkey is so burdened by your weight, how inhuman! Finally, they both decided to carry the donkey on their shoulders.
Teen years as difficult it is for most of us, struggling with peer judgments and acceptance, this folktale helped me understand the essence of self-belief vis-à-vis the banter that the world will always throw at you. When he was narrating this story, he smiled and said “don’t carry the donkey on your shoulders” was reminiscing when I recently read the same story in the book Oriental Stories as Tools in Psychotherapy.
Stories and folktales shape the cultural identity
From times immemorial folktales and lore have been used as one of the effective tools to impart values and pass on cultural beliefs. They are the carriers of the most essential life lessons that define and build one’s character while growing up. Defeating the unjust, good deeds winning over the evil, perseverance and patience are some of the universal lessons that we imbibe listening them and these help us weave the smaller attributes in order to develop a stronger character. I remember having fond memories of my childhood eagerly waiting to hear a folktale from my grandfather or enjoying the series of Mahabharat and Ramayana during summer breaks supported with a simple narration. They certainly became an integral part of my identity.
Expands imagination and creativity
Stories have always been a reservoir of imagination that children can dive in, giving them the power to create something of their own. It helps them understand the world outside through the playfulness of the characters away from being logical and rational, yet being real. One can build on the imagination further by using more verbal expressions, enactment or even letting children build their own version, giving them an opportunity to add flavours to their creation. It sometimes surprises me seeing my daughter ask or look for what’s not in the story helping me gauge how wide can the fantasy be and the associations she is building in her mind. “Where do you think the rabbit is Ma?” and I respond “where do you think he might be let’s think” and the imagination continues!
Hones the Problem-Solving Skills
Like adults, children deal with their own conflicts too and experience feeling sad, confused, frustrated, angry or anxious. Stories provide them a window to look beyond what they are experiencing in that particular moment. It helps them travel a distance through imaginations, creating an identification with the characters that builds a perspective to the problem at hand.
A few days back my 5-year-old daughter was racing with her 11-year-old friend in the park. Each time her friend would run faster she would stop saying “I want to come first”. She requested her friend to run slow and I intervened to say “let’s play by rules”. I went up to my daughter and said “you are running very well. It’s because she is older and taller than you, she is able to take bigger steps. You would too be able to run faster, when you get that age and right now you are doing wonderful!” She decided to run again but after a few steps she stopped again, feeling sad, sulking and almost teary “why can’t she run slow”. She decided to drop the game and play something else. It so happened that the same night we happen to read a story from her book Tales of Adventurous Treasury. The book has stories of Winnie the bear and his friends and what do they do the best. The story that we read talked about a baby Kangaroo who was not able to bounce as much as his friend Tiger who is older to him. The baby kangaroo wanted to reach the branch of the tree to pick some apples for his mum who was cooking apple pie. Baby Kangaroo felt sad and sulked as he made several attempts but couldn’t do it himself. Each time he had to take help from one of his friends to help him climb and would feel helpless if they weren’t round. Then baby kangaroo thought of an idea to nail the smaller branch sticks that he picked from the ground and make a ladder. Finally he could climb the tree. Hearing this there was big smile on my daughter’s face. I reminded her of the race that evening and immediately with excitement she said “I am going to keep running faster!”
Storytelling as a tool can help parents and children travel the distance together. The process of transformation that takes place from the beginning till the end, reduces the generational divide thus making the ends meet. Stories and tales provide us the language of imagination to connect well with our children and can also prove to be therapeutic, helping them in reparation process in times of internal conflicts. It is important that we preserve the essence of these stories and folktales, have a bag full of stories and be our child’s own Kabuliwala!