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Dec 19

The Best Gift You Can Give Your Children: Their Family Story

My father would have turned 81 this year. He never got to meet my two kids, and especially around the holidays I think a lot about how to help them feel connected to their Grandpa Jim. I grew up hearing family stories, and learning about the struggles and triumphs of my ancestors inspired me and made me feel a little stronger by association.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in this feeling. Researchers found that kids who know a lot about their family history tend to be more resilient in the face of challenges. In fact, knowing about family history was a strong “predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

As we all take time to celebrate the holidays this season, it’s a great opportunity to help your children connect with their family heritage. Here are some easy ways to help kids learn more about their own history.

Embrace Holiday Traditions: Kids love holiday traditions, and if these annual rituals happen to be connected to your family history, culture, or religion, these fun activities can become a way of linking children to something larger. If you don’t have any strong family traditions, you can start some!

Interview a Relative: One day when my kids were asking me about farm life, I suddenly remembered that we had an expert in the family: Grandma grew up on a ranch! Through FaceTime, Grandma gamely fielded a dozen questions about milking cows, gathering eggs, making butter, and riding horses. Both grandmother and grandchildren were delighted by the exchange.

Look at Photos and Videos: The holidays are a great opportunity to pull out old photos or family movies and explore them together. Your kids will love seeing what you looked like when you were their age. Details in the photos will naturally lead to conversations.

Try a Recipe Together: Food is a great connector. Grab a family favorite recipe and as you cook with your kids, talk about your memories. If you don’t have any go-to family recipes, look up a recipe that reflects some aspect of your family’s culture and try it out!

To help my own children understand our family’s history, this year we decided to celebrate Grandpa Jim’s birthday by doing something he loved: eating dinner at a local clam shack. Over dinner, I told my kids “Grandpa Jim stories.” He was a scientist who studied bugs, I said, and when we went on camping trips, we almost always spent time trapping fruit flies for his lab. A few months later my 4-year-old said, “I saw a fruit fly at preschool today! Grandpa Jim loved fruit flies! I like them, too.”

Feeling connected to our family’s larger history is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. As the author Bruce Feiler wrote, “if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

by Deborah Farmer Kris


Deborah Farmer Kris is a writer, teacher, parent educator, and school administrator. 

You can read more of Deborah’s parenting advice on PBS KIDS for Parents