“Can we tell a Jimmy the Mouse story tonight?” begs my five-year old daughter Taylor. Before I can even get comfortable on her tiny bed, she asks, “What should the story be about?” Our nightly routine begins once again. “How about Jimmy the Mouse and the great camping adventure?” I inquire. “No…,” Taylor responds, “How about Jimmy the Mouse and the great toy store adventure.” In the two years that I’ve been telling “Jimmy the Mouse” stories, she has never liked my story ideas. It makes no difference to me because I’m waiting for my favorite part. The part when Taylor snuggles up close and I get to hold her hand—uninterrupted—for fifteen or so minutes.
“Once upon a time,” I whisper, “there lived a little mouse named Jimmy…” And our little mouse is off on his newest adventure. I’m in heaven.
My father began this tradition several years ago, so I can’t take credit for discovering Jimmy the Mouse. However, I have learned that this little mouse is pregnant with opportunities to enhance my relationship with Taylor. Over the years that I have told interactive bedtime stories, I’ve come to understand why they are so powerful.
It’s important to distinguish between a bed-time story and an interactive story. An interactive story solicits the child’s involvement in the telling of the story. Instead of passively listening, the child becomes a co-story teller. For example, one person starts the story then yells “PASS” after telling part of the story. The next person then takes over and adds his or her unique story content. This back and forth process goes on until someone ends the story. I usually end because Taylor would keep us up all night.
The Power of an Interactive Bedtime Story
1. Allows For Special Time. When Taylor and I tell Jimmy the Mouse stories it unites or bonds us together. In other words, shared experiences like story telling create a “glue” that bond family members. Experts on friendship tell us that people become close by doing things together.
2. Fosters Family Traditions. An interactive story can cultivate a family tradition as members anticipate the regular experience. Researchers Wolin and Bennett found that families who have limited or no traditions suffered more from the widespread pathologies of our day, such as alcohol and drug abuse, depression, binge eating, and family violence. On the other hand, participating in family traditions reinforces the family identity, fosters communication, provides a sense of belonging, and helps members learn crucial family rules as well as the family’s myths about its history.
3. Pass Along Values and Beliefs. Another great benefit of story telling is that it provides a way to transmit the family’s values, attitudes and goals. No matter what Jimmy the Mouse adventure Taylor chooses there are endless possibilities to teach life-lessons. Children, especially older children, are prone to shut down when we try to teach important values. But a story is a great medium to transmit values. Kids rarely resist hearing an exciting story.
4. Promotes Creative Development. A final benefit of an interactive story is how it encourages creativity and imagination. Over the years, I have been amazed at how Taylor’s creativeness has increased. Her parts of the story have become much more humorous and inventive. The best part is that she recognizes her own confidence at telling stories—a skill that will be invaluable as she matures.
From passing along values to fostering creative development, an interactive story can reap countless benefits on the family. Best of all, it provides special one-on-one time that is priceless. I know that one day, Taylor will no longer be interested in Jimmy. Jimmy the Mouse will be replaced by Jimmy the Boy, or some other teenager fascination. But until that time, dad, Taylor and Jimmy will continue spending time exploring the world. And I will continue being in Heaven.
Used with permission from Greg Smalley, Psy.D. Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Church Relationship Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at www.liferelationships.com.