The Story of Self


Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

– Indian Proverb

Understanding who they are is one of the greatest tasks of childhood. Kids love trying on costumes pretending to be super heroes, local heroes (police officer, fireman, doctors), or beautiful princesses. Because they have not defined who they are, there are infinite possibilities. My college philosophy professor made certain that the question “Who am I?” was printed on every one of the 179 handouts he passed out over a semester. My thought as a 19 year old was “What’s this guy on and why is he still allowed in the classroom?” (Although the way he communicated that question may not have been the easiest to relate to, he was right.) The question remains critically important to ask and continually answer as a growing, developing, and ever-changing person.

At this very moment, E, my four year old is watching baby videos of himself trying to figure out who that cute, yet distant person was and how it relates to who he is today. He loves it when I tell the simplest stories about his babydom – how we came up with his name, what we said when we first saw his face, when and how he had his first bath, how he loved sleeping under the lights in the hospital since he was born jaundiced.

You as a parent provide keen insight into a child’s sense of self. The stories that we tell children about who they are – are not only believed but become a part of the stories they tell themselves over and over about who they are. “I am good with animals.” “I don’t have a very good math sense.” “I am strong.” “I am shy.” These are all ideas children may have about themselves that have come from what others have said about them. When children have specific stories about who they are, they work to reinforce those messages, whether negative or positive. We tell E often that he sees details others might miss. So he proves to us often that he posseses this unique skill by pointing out intricasies, like a small, camouflaged spider, everywhere we go to reinforce his competence in this area.

Telling children stories about themselves doesn’t have to be particularly complicated, elaborate or take much preparation and planning. Actually, it’s better that they be short and simple because first of all, you’ll be more game to do it and second, they’ll actually remember it. It must, however, be authentic (true) and specific. Kids of all ages can sense manipulation (from a mile away) so this is not a place to try and build an ability that is lacking by saying it’s already a unique skill. Also, generic praise or compliments such as, “You’re so great!” are difficult to quantify (What does that mean?) and nearly impossible to encourage and replicate (How might I be great in the future? There could be a million ways.)

Take Action!

Appropriate Ages: Any and all

Get started by telling your child stories about him or herself. Here are some simple starters:

When you were only ____ years old,  you told me you wanted to be ___________. You showed me how __________ (strong, persistent, thoughtful, attentive – add descriptive words)___ you could be.

When you were a tiny baby, you didn’t know how to ________ so the first time you tried, you ________________________. We were so proud when you practiced until you could do it all by yourself.

The first trip we ever took as a family was to ___________. You were so excited that you _____________ ahead of time. On the trip, we did lots of fun things including ___________________. You were so brave when you tried ____________ for the first time.

I was so proud when your teacher in ______ grade told me how you __________when__________. That showed courage and persistence.

Family Storytelling

Extend the learning by bringing up your story at a time when the whole family is together like dinnertime. Then, (to promote family identity and connectedness) play pass the story. Have family members think of an instance when you had fun together. Go around the table and tell only one small piece of the story and pass it around so each person has an opportunity to add to the story. Be wary of comments that are sarcastic and make fun of the subject of the story. If a family member contributes that type of comment, be sure and refocus their comments. “This story is only about the good things that Ryan did.”


Seuss, R., & McKie, R. (1969). My book about me. NY: Random House Books for Young Readers.

Fill in and complete sentences about yourself in this book about your child. Because Dr. Seuss books are such classics, this one could be fun for preschoolers with writing help from parents all the way up through childhood. Pre-teens to teens may even enjoy the nostalgia and simplicity of it.

Kranz, L. (2004). (Rev. Ed.). All about me; A keepsake journal for kids. Lanham, MD: Cooper Square Publishing.

For ages 8 and up, this is a wonderful way to begin journal writing through fun questions that encourage kids to write about their thoughts and feelings.

Hello Fellow Parents!

How do you define success for yourself as a parent and for your kids? For me, bottom line, I want my child to feel confident that he can do and be anything he chooses if he works hard to achieve his goals. In my nearly twenty years working in education, it’s been clear to me that what helps a child achieve goals, whether at school or at home, is supporting his development and creating opportunities to build social and emotional skills such as self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.[i] Social and emotional learning has been the process and content of how I have helped schools move from underperforming to achieving. As I became a parent, I noticed I was working hard to translate the work I was doing in schools to my parenting life. I found very few supports for this critical area. So the purpose of this blog is to help parents who are life-long learners and interested in being proactive about supporting their children’s social and emotional development. Not only will I share the best of what educators know about how to support children’s learning with simple, practical ideas to use in family life, I will also create a forum for dialogue so that we together develop a community of parents engaged in doing the best for our kids!

Please read on and share with friends! Check out the sidebar. You can sign up to receive the weekly posts through email. And also, get in touch at and submit questions, challenges, ideas and practices you use. Here’s to you, confident parents raising confident kids!

My best,

Jennifer Miller, M.Ed.

Educational Consultant and Parent

[i] Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (2003). Safe and sound; An educational leader’s guide to evidence-based social and emotional learning programs. Chicago, IL: Author.

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