How does “knowing your story” impact feelings of acceptance, belonging, and well-being?

Does your child sense that they belong to something bigger than themselves? (This may be difficult to see on those “it’s all about me” days)

Research shows a child’s understanding of family history actually helps forge these feelings of acceptance, belonging, and well-being. When children sense they belong to something bigger than themselves, they are often more grounded and confident people.

In 2001, two Emory University psychology professors, Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke, directed the Family Narratives Project, an interesting study of a child’s knowledge of family history. The results of the study were published in 2010.

The researchers created a “Do You Know?” scale and interviewed four dozen families plus recorded family dinner conversations over a three-year period. Each family had at least one child between 9 and 12 years of age. Two years later, when the children were 11-14, the professors visited with the families again. More than 120 hours of recorded conversations were analyzed.

The questions asked included ones such as the following:

Do you know how your parents met?

Do you know what was going on when you were born?

Do you know some of the challenges your parents experienced when they were young?

Do you know some of the lessons your parents learned growing up?

Do you know about some of your grandparents’ childhoods?


Here are some of their findings:

  1. Families that regularly share meals with meaningful conversation have children who know more about their family history.

From the research results, Duke is convinced of the importance of family meals. He worries that many families have abandoned the family meal and may be losing the benefits that help nurture resilient children. “The time we spend with our children at dinner times should be held sacred,” he says.

  1. Children who know more about their family history tend to have higher self-esteem, interact better with their peers, and show higher resilience in adversity. They feel a stronger sense of control over their lives.

“The power of the family stories and the family history is really remarkable,” Fivush says. “There seems to be something that’s particularly important about children knowing where they came from in a larger sense and having a sense of family history and a family place.”

It’s not only what families say, but how they talk about events together that is important, Fivush notes. Children benefit when parents listen to them and validate their words and how they feel. This is especially important when discussing negative events in their lives.

In his book Safe House: How Emotional Safety Is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well, Dr. Joshua Straub discusses the power of knowing your story. He cites the Emory study and concludes:

*We’re all interwoven in interdependent, inter-generational relationships that take place over time.*

*Making sense of our family history and re-framing the meaning of how we fit into those events are critical to raising kids who live, love, and lead well.*

*The more our kids know about their own history, the more they feel a part of something bigger than themselves.*

How to Raise Confident and Resilient Children: Tips for Parents! 

  1. Share family meals together as often as possible. “As often as possible” are the key words. Not sure all of the sandwiches eaten standing next to our car in the parking lot of the ballpark would count. But, do make this a priority, realizing the power of shared meals with your children in a relaxed setting.
  2. Tell your child stories about their family history, such as where their grandparents grew up, how they met, what their parents did for a living.
  3. Talk openly with your child about both positive and negative events.
  4. Don’t pretend bad things don’t happen in families. They do. Wisely address these if appropriate. Use the opportunity to instill a sense of peace and well-being in your child with the wisdom found in God’s Word.
  5. Help your child see that people can overcome obstacles and learn from mistakes and negative events in their lives.
  6. Create opportunities to be together as a family and carve out talking times that are relaxed and positive.

The more our kids know about their own history, the more they feel a part of something bigger than themselves.

References and Further Reading:

Family Narratives Project, Emory University

Family Meals, Stories Boost Child Confidence, Say Emory Researchers

Safe House: How Emotional Safety Is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well, by Joshua Straub