Mum and son. Telling stories

You know, what is weird? In a good way weird? That even if you were this modern, digital and „unrooted” person before, when you become somebody who is taking care of a child, you are immediately taken back to the most natural human heritage. You are holding a crying baby – you need to swing and sing a song. You want your baby to sleep – you need to calm him/her with whispering and humming. And suddenly you need to recall all those lullabies, rhymes and fairy tales from childhood. If you were lucky, you were told them by your parents, grandfathers and teachers. If not, your turn to learn! To make a step into the flow.

This is the time when the most important things on Earth are: your voice, skin to skin contact, closeness and calmness. How many times my son was restless, because I was so. Because I wasn’t here and now. So this is also a possibility for us (often digital addicted) adults to be in touch with our body again, to communicate and to listen to yourself and the other.

Before my son Sten was born I wasn’t much around children. I didn’t know how to change a diaper or how to sing a lullaby. So I was learning it along with Sten learning how to drink, eat, walk and talk. Now he is 2 years and 2 months old and we’ve just finished breastfeeding. We were preparing ourselves (whole family) for this huge change for months. I needed to find new tricks to make Sten calm and fall asleep. Finally, after some bumping events, it came naturally.

And it was the oldest trick of Homo sapiens! Telling stories. Sten wants it, he won’t let me go without it. Listening helps him to focus after a tiring day, to be close, here and now, and finally – to fall asleep. Then I discovered that telling stories, rhymes or siniging is helping us with so much more. When Sten is too distracted to eat. When we have to climb second floor stairs. When we wait for something. When we travel by car, by train etc. The power of narration is huge! This is exactly why it worked for centuries: for our ancestors listening to the stories around a fire, singing while working or walking a long way. Maybe we, as a generation, tend to forget about it, we have so many virtual „additives” occupying our attention.

Storytelling means being focused in telling and listening. First you, an adult, tell a story, and the child listens. Then, with your child’s developing skills, you can encourage him/ her to tell their own stories (what has happened on the playground, whom have you met, where did the fat cat go?). The exchange is a miracle and children love it. They love to give us something too. But also listening is a skill which we need to learn. Both children and adults. One day – I hope – Sten will be telling me his stories and I will be listening. If I will be lucky, also when he will be a teenager and then an adult.

Coming back to now – when night comes, I always ask my son: what story do you want to hear? (If I don’t ask it, he quickly reminds me this himself.) Then he answers: about this or that (actual hero from his favourite cartoon). So I start to create a story with fireman Sam for instance…hitting a road with his friends to the mountains. Or my husband is telling the next episodes of Edi Das Flugzeug’s adventures, the hero he invented himself. We have to use our free, childlike imagination, something we did not use much last years. It is not so easy! Imagine – sometimes few different stories each day. That is why I wanted to ask other mums and dads about their tips and tricks. And of course books are never dying out source of inspiration! Sometimes the Internet can be helpful too. Or even the festivals of now reborn art of storytelling. The best would be of course our own grandma or even great-grandma…

Before I start a list of ideas, followed by few useful links, I want to thank one guy, Estonian writer Anti Saar, whose book for children I was translating when my son was born. The book is narrated by a boy telling us about his parents, little brother and their everyday life. Simple as it seems, it is also brillant. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I just needed such book that time. When I was obssesed with keeping hygiene of a newborn baby (brain-washed me!) and trying so hard to be a perfect mum. Just then I got the inside look into that very nice (and Estonian) family. One of their tradition was to tell stories while sitting together at the table and having a meal. For instance: how mum and dad were celebrating their anniversary in Paris (with crying baby in an elegant Parisian restaurant and getting lost in the jungle of Parisian crooked streets). Everybody has his/her turn, even the youngest one tells a story about „how once upon a time he and a polar bear became friends”… Sometimes the four would gather in a living room, turn off the light, put the candles and tell each other really frightening (and funny) stories. So being a parent is not only about feeding and keeping my baby clean. But enjoying being together in so many ways. Thanks, Anti! (Anti Saar, Ja, Jonasz i cała reszta, Widnokrąg 2018)

And here are some tips and tricks how to tell a story – thank you all MOMMAS’ mums!

Practical before going to sleep, while eating together, travelling etc, etc…
• popular songs and lullabies,
• recall with our child all things that he/she has made or have happened during that day,
• memories/ events from the past,
• memories from our (parents’) youth,
• list all family members by names (grandma Danusia is asleep, grandpa Antek is asleep, uncle Maciek is asleep, antie Ania is asleep, their dog Beza is asleep… it is better than counting sheeps!)
• create a personage and then continue with his/ her adventures every day (for instance Flying Filip and his kickbike – each story about a different journey),
• travel stories – the real ones, that we were a part of,
• terapeutic or educational stories: we create a story about a child who has the same issue as ours,
• popular fairy tales but this time our family is part of them (daddy is a king, mummy is a queen, you are a knight, our dog – your horse etc.),
• stories about animals (never ending inspiration),
• start with a sentence and then let the other go on/switch,
• telling about our dreams (in both meanings: our desires and/ or what dream we have had the other night),
• stories about the place we live in (a city, village, street, house etc.),
• frightening stories told with a torch light in a dark tent/camping.


Storytellers and storytelling: people, places, festivals and workshops:

In all our countries:
• Book by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves (Mujeres que corren con los lobos; Ženy, které běhaly s vlky, Biegnąca z wilkami)

In Poland:
• Muzeum Bajek, Baśni i Opowieści
• Books with rhymes for kids, for instance: Danuta Wawiłow, Natalia Usenko, Tere-fere kuku. Stare i nowe wyliczanki, wyd. Papilon)

In Czech Republic: (website also in English)

In Spain:
• Beatriz Montero (website in Spanish and English)
• Books: Beatriz Montenero, Los secretos del cuentacuentos (i.e. The Secrets of Storytelling), Como contar cuentos a bebés y niños pequeños (i.e. How to tell stories to babies and small children)

Art of storytelling (in Polish):


Author: Anna Michalczuk-Podlecki with help of Sten, Jonas and MOMMAS’ mums