Children, Stress and Genealogy
Recently in Parade Magazine I read a review of a new book, The Secrets of a Happy Family by Bruce Feiler. The author claims to have spent the past few years meeting with scholars, peace negotiators, online-game designers, the Green Berets, and even Warren Buffett's bankers to try to glean the secrets of a happy family.
While it may not be obvious among teenagers today who can't wait to escape their family, three quarters of American adults say their family is the most important element of their lives. Eighty-five percent said the family they have today is as close or closer to them as they family they in which they grew up.
Another interesting fact mentioned is that 40% of adult Americans, over 100 million people, claimed to attend a family reunion every year. Another 25% attend one every few years. Since having fun together is a key part of building strong family identity, family reunions encourage family cohesion by playing together, and of course eating together, a big event at a family reunion.
I was struck immediately, however, by the first "secret" mentioned in the article. Apparently some of the experts whom the author questioned included a team of psychologists who had measured resilience in children. They found kids were best able to handle stress when they knew the most about their family's history. This is the first time I've seen stress used as a reason to study genealogy, but it makes sense to me.
The psychologists determined that the more the children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. Their conclusion is that when children have a strong sense of "intergenerational self" they understand they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience highs and lows.
The website Genwriters.com suggests several reasons for this conclusion. Children are naturally curious and often ask questions about their parents' and grandparents' childhoods. They are interested in the differences and at the same time look for similarities with their own childhood. While it may be hard for a child to envision his parents or older relatives as children, it helps to connect them to family.
Genwriters suggests several ways to involve your children and encourage their interest in your genealogy. Probably the most compelling way is to view photographs of parents and ancestors with your children or grandchildren. When I was a child I could spend hours looking at my grandmother's scrapbooks with photos going back into the mid 1800s. Today I treasure those scrapbooks and still enjoy looking at them.
Another way to involve the kids is with maps. Take a large map of the U.S. or even the world, if necessary, and find the places where ancestors lived. If they moved, use the map to track the possible route taken to the new home. Find information on the internet about the locations, living conditions, weather, etc.
If you like to cook with the children, share family recipes. Let them help prepare the meal. Talk about where the ingredients came from and how ancestors obtained them. Talk about what they like or don't like about the food compared to meals they eat more often today, fast food, etc.
If you or other family members kept a journal, share the writings with today's children. Encourage them to keep a journal about their daily activities and family life. Children often enjoy writing and may start a habit that stays with them throughout their lives.
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2 April 2013