Several months ago, my supervisor asked if I would be willing to pen a feature article for our monthly newsletter that goes out to educators and children’s advocates across the state. Of course, I agreed. (I am a writer, after all.)
I then pitched an idea that I had been thinking about for some time: families using family history/genealogy to connect to each other and to “something more.”
This month, that article was published. And, because I am, after all, a family history blogger, I am sharing it with you.
“…Connection [is] the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~Brené Brown
Connection. Feeling connected to loved ones and the world around them is crucial for children’s well-being and healthy emotional development. Connection occurs when caregivers empathize with children’s experiences, support children’s ideas and interests, and encourage curiosity.
According to Alisa Jaffe Hollerton, author of An Unexpected Journey, these four reasons are why connection is so important to the healthy development of children: ¹
- Connection makes children feel like they are not alone. We all know that we can feel lonely even when we are in the presence of others. It is not simply being in the same room that feels good to us; it is being connected.
- Connection makes children feel important and shows them that they matter and are loved.
- Connection increases children’s self-esteem. If they are worth their caregivers’ time, then they have value.
- Connection becomes internalized and gives children confidence when they are away from their caregivers. It bolsters children and solidifies their self-esteem.
As professionals working with families, you comprehend that connection cultivates and strengthens children’s personal identities. Evidence has shown that when the Five Protective Factors are present in a family, relationships are strengthened, lives are made more robust, and young people flourish.
Knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being. ~ Bruce Feiler
Two ways that families can foster the Five Protective Factors, thereby creating connection, are learning about family history and celebrating their own personal history. Researching family history provides families the opportunity to learn about the lives of others. It also helps family members better understand themselves and their own experiences within the context of world events, both present and past. “The single most important thing [one] can do for [his/her] family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believe their families function.” ²
Knowing their family history gives young people a “place in the world,” allowing them to connect with something bigger than themselves, as well as giving them a deeper understanding of who they are and where they come from. Even when the narrative is not always positive, it is still necessary. “Whether it’s good, bad or somewhere in between, the stories of families and heritage provide kids with a sense of belonging and, even more than that, a kind of resiliency…” ³
The desire to connect with family, both past and present, and to understand one’s place in life’s narrative is strong and shared by many, as evidenced by fact that family history/genealogy is one of the most popular pastimes in America.
While some people enjoy digging through the past to discover “lost” family, others do not. Because of past traumas or unpleasant occurrences, digging in the past for some may be painful or uncomfortable. For those people, family history can still be shared with their children; however, instead of going back generations, they can, instead, focus on their immediate family and/or on the children themselves. Here’s how: ⁴
Caregivers can tell stories about their life. By filling these tales with interesting details, humor, and/or unusual facts, children’s imaginations are captured. Sharing family stories can be an everyday occurrence, happening around the kitchen table, in the car, or at bedtime.
Pictures make the past come alive. Children especially enjoy pictures showing how fashions and hairstyles have changed over the years.
FAMILY HISTORY GAMES
Games make family history fun. Families can make up games specific to them, such as a trivia game, a matching game, or bingo. Children can even help create the game.
The same way one tells a recipe, one tells a family history. ~Laura Esquivel
FAMILY FOOD HISTORY
Throughout history, food has been an important part of holidays and family gatherings. Either using family recipes or preparing dishes from different countries where ancestors originated is a great way to connect children to the past.
TALK WITH OTHERS
Adults will often share stories with children that they have not told other adults. Encourage children of all ages to talk to their living relatives, especially the older ones. If relatives are not an option, caregivers/parents can tell tales of their younger years. Hearing stories about what life was like “back then” helps young people learn about the past and connect to the present. This connection also brings generations together and establishes strong bonds.
TELL THEIR OWN TALES
Children and teenagers can also document their own personal histories. Their stories matter too, not only to themselves and their family but to future generations. Younger children can draw pictures of the things they enjoy or special times they have had. Older children and teenagers can keep a journal or write stories from their lives or create a scrapbook or photo album, using a camera, phone, or handheld device to photograph events and/or family members.
Want more ways to connect children with their family and/or personal history? Then check out these resources:
- Burnett, C. (2017, December 25). Five Cool Apps & Websites to Research Family History with Your Kids. https://www.scholastic.com/parents/school-success/learning-toolkit-blog/5-cool-apps-websites-to-research-family-history-your-kids.html
- Elder, D., Taylor Morgan, J., Childs, A., Wirthlin, R., & Dyer, N. (2020, July 16). Family History for Children and Teens. https://familylocket.com/family-history-for-children-and-teens/
- Family History and Genealogy. (n.d.). https://www.familyeducation.com/family-life/family-history-genealogy
- Genealogy Activities for Kids! (2020, March 26). https://www.archives.gov/education/family-history
- Involve Children and Youth in Family History. (n.d.). https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Involve_Children_and_Youth_in_Family_History
- Morton, S., & Felix McClellan, C. (2020, June 23). Seven Genealogy Activities You Can Do with Kids. https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/7-genealogy-activities-for-kids/