By Jos Dirkx

Do you remember the first time you realised that you loved listening to stories? The sound of someone’s voice, in a trusted and safe space, bringing stories of escape, adventure, travel and exploration to you? Tales of friendship, change and growth?

 

The stories we tell kids shape their understanding of the world around them, their perception of self and the way in which they bring new ideasand an open spirit with them into the world. Studies show storytelling is infinitely important to the development of children, kids exposed tostories build imaginative capacity, have stronger relationships and develop a curious spirit – but what about the content of those stories? In how many stories is a girl from Malawi the hero?How often do we see a 13-year-old from Canada take fighting the pollution of water in her ownhands? What’s it like to learn about a 12-year-old exploring her passion and what makes her truly happy?

The power of storytelling lies in content and ourability to shape new ways of thinking, to exploreadventures and to bring the world together injust a few chapters. The stories we choose are crucial to kids’ development and the wealth of wonderful and worldly content allows us to pick from a variety of narratives that truly can changethe way a child views the world. Stories have an immense power to shift perspective – read on to learn more about the five ways in which the stories you read to your kids can break down
gender and race stereotypes, helping them see the wide world ahead!

 

“Words really do matter
So choose them with care
For once they are said
Forever they’re there.”

Mindset Magic
By choosing stories that feature powerful characters shaping their own destinies, kids feel empowered to build their very own success story. The hero of their own exploration, they’re able to escape into a beautiful narrative and meaningful adventure. However, the character; where they are from;what they are like; what their strengths are,matters a great deal. Some kids grow up with anarray of role models around them, but for those who don’t, stories with a diverse set of heroiccharacters can serve to expand their minds.

Honesty Through Narrative
So often we have heard the tale of the princess in need, who is saved by the handsome knight and then they both live happily ever after. Not the fairy tale many of us know to be a reality.One might argue the brothers Grimm were ontosomething! Their tales showed the darker sides of humanity and society… but for some reason, many of our stories now hide these elements of reality. Not every story ends well and being honest with kids about the realities of life in a delicate and charming way can help them shape realistic expectations of the future while building stronger emotional capacity to deal with adversity. The truth is that for pretty much all of us, life is not a fairy tale. We go through our own struggles, challenges and difficult decisions and the sooner we are able to hear different versions of a creative truth, the better we are equipped to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See
Telling kids stories that feature diverse characters and personalities is crucial to their understanding of the world. It’s through these narratives they are able to find new ways to relate not only to the environment around them, but also to others that share the same space. One of the reasons we have perpetuated the tale of the princess and the knight is because this is the only narrative we believed we had access to! It is the narrative too many of us seemingly trusted and understood. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you changed the identify or gender of characters in existing fairy tales while reading them out loud to your kids? It’s our responsibility to show kids that there are countless ways to ‘be’, that there are countless ways in which their positive spirit and energy can change the world.

The New Mulan
When I was around 10 years old, my familyand I went to visit Disneyworld in California. We also took a trip to Universal Studios, which was amazing. During a tour there, we had anopportunity to sit and speak with some of the creative team that worked on the incredible movies and stories we all loveso much. Then (a ten-year- old) I raised my hand andmentioned that I struggled with the fact that all the princesses were so ‘perfect looking’ and that they all seemed to play a very limitedrole. At that time, it was 1997,there was not yet a truly groundbreaking princess who built her own success. However, the team responded that theywere about to release Mulan, a story featuringa strong female character. That was over two decades ago. Choosing a ‘new Mulan’ can help your kids expand their mindset. Don’t be afraid to choose new and exciting characters for your kids to aspire to!

Jos Dirkx is the author of new illustrated children’s book Girls Do Good: A Colourful Guide to Changing the World with Stories of Real-life Superheroes, available now on Amazon. Find out more at girlsdogood.co

 

There’s no right answer
To further expand on the above: this isn’t about one character being better than another. It’s about choice, about variety and diversity and it’s about acceptance. The last thing we need to focus on is whether a character like Mulan is a stronger character choice than Cinderella. That type of restrictive thinking still does not allow us to get to the root cause of what we are trying todo, which is to make stories for all different kinds of kids featuring all different kinds of characters.The most important thing we can do is show versatile, fun and different characters, that each tell their own tale of success and change and that don’t necessarily fit into a specific, predefined box.

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