Many parents are suddenly spending far more time with their children because of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns. They may now be playing with lego, doing jigsaws, and having pretend tea parties more so than any other point in their adult life.
It may be frustrating because your job is suddenly more challenging as you adapt to remote working in a house of bored children and attention seeking pets.
Or the dreams you had of upskilling and learning the key skills you will require for your career to develop have crashed and burned, as you realise the battle it will be to carve out the time and motivation to do this.
There has been some social media pressure putting expectations on people to use this magical time to garden, improve the house, write that book, or finish that course. In reality we are going through a time of trauma and self-care is more important than these external achievements.
You do not need to worry. Engaging with your children is helping you develop the most important skills required for the future.
“Mastering the ancient art of persuasion — combining words and ideas to move people to action — is no longer a “soft” skill. It is the fundamental skill to get from good to great in the age of ideas”- Carmine Gallo
Communication involves storytelling, empathy, emotional intelligence, and leadership. The aim is to have influence after all.
Many of the games we play with our children will help develop these skills, and they can have a positive impact at any age.
Get Into Character
Games like dungeons and dragons are rising in popularity, where diverse groups of players create characters and explore fantastic worlds to battle evil. This is a wonderful way to develop our imagination, storytelling, and empathy, but it has also been used to improve mental health and has even been used as therapy.
As James Breakwell noted on Twitter, sometimes your children will surprise you.
“I played Dungeons and Dragons with my daughters. They were supposed to fight the wolves surrounding a town. Instead, they fed the wolves and turned them into their friendly wolf army. Girls, man. They’ll take over the world.”
Not all children will want to do this, and they don’t have to. You can get in to character by reading a book. You may be surprised by how young children respond to the voices you do.
When reading the Gruffalo, how does your snake voice differ from the mouse? Why is that? It can get stranger when you have to voice something that is not usually alive.
What kind of voice does a stick have? I carried on the game over dinner and started voicing the garlic bread and glass of milk.
How you change your voice, the sound effects you do, and when you choose to dramatically pause for suspense, are all key skills for storytelling.
Create A Character
It is one thing to voice a character that already exists, but can you create your own? The animators at Pixar are wonderful at this, as they show in their free course on storytelling. Grab a pen and paper and start creating a character with your kids. You do not have to be a great artist, just start with a line.
Can you draw a happy line? An anxious line? Does the colour used impact this?
What kind of personality does a circle have? What do they like doing? What kind of voice do they have?
Then do the same with a rectangle. Then a triangle.
You can then do this with numbers and words. What does the word tissue sound like? Or basement? Why is that?
How does a number four dance compared to a number twelve?
These may seem like silly questions, but you are opening your mind to new ways of seeing the world, and developing your creativity.
Tell A Story
Now you can create a character, what will you have them do?
There are so many tools for storytelling, and many are right in front of you. There are ones you can buy, such as the award winning storycubes. A box of nine dice that have images on them around a certain theme, from fantasia to Batman.
You then roll the dice and tell a story with the images that come up. My four year old started with three dice, but older children could roll all nine and organise them in to the three acts of a much larger story.
My fellow media lecturer Jonathon Carswell uses a similar technique with his teenage students. He finds four images online and the students need to craft a story around them. They then have to reorder them and tell a new story.
You could do this with simple flash card sets for toddlers, and create basic narratives such as “the dog ate the apple”, or get much more sophisticated and use decks such as the Ryder Waite Tarot cards where you need to uncover the meaning of colours, symbols, and animals.
As Steve Jobs said —
“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”
Go tell stories and put a dent in the universe.