Two years ago, The New York Times featured an article written by Bruce Feiler that discussed the work of Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. Duke explored ritual and myth in American families and discovered something surprising: children who know a lot about their families and their histories tend to do better when they face challenges. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned,” he wrote.
Duke and his colleagues used the “Do You Know” measure that they developed to test children’s knowledge about their histories.
Some of the questions were as simple as:
“Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?”
The more answers the child knew correlated greatly with the child’s emotional health and resilience.
The researchers also studied different types of family narratives and found that the most helpful and valuable one was the “oscillating family narrative,” like the following:
“Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.”
Further studies showed that family stories tended to be transferred by mothers and grandmothers and that the information was passed during family dinners and family vacations.
“Other data indicated that these very same regular family dinners, yearly vacations, and holiday celebrations occur more frequently in families that have high levels of cohesiveness and that they contribute to the development of a strong sense of what we have called the intergenerational self,” they wrote. “It is this intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it that are associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes.”
So keep up with family dinners, holiday celebrations and your yearly summer vacation. It can truly make your family and your children stronger and more resilient.
Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.