The Power of Storytelling

When we were little, my father would tell us stories. Stories about historical figures, stories about his childhood, stories about my home country. Our thirst for these stories was unquenched; we always insisted that he tell us something new every night. My father, knowing that one day he may run out of tales to tell us, devised an ingenious plan modelled after the fairy tale One Thousand and One Nights.


For those unfamiliar with it, One Thousand and One Nights is about a woman who saves herself by relating parts of a story to the king who holds her life. Every night she would leave him with a cliff-hanger, and he would have no choice but to wait the following night to hear the rest of her suspenseful tale. Thereby she saved her life, day by day, with the power of her storytelling.

My father had the same idea: to save himself from three annoying, demanding kids, he would start a story and always end the night with “and tomorrow we will end”. It drove us insane; we wanted to know more, and the suspense was intense. When the evening came along the following day, we were eager to finish up whatever task or homework we had and to sit around him and hear the end. Most nights, he duped us, and instead of the ending, we heard the dreaded (but also much anticipated) “and tomorrow we will end”.

Now, as I reflect back, I realize my father’s wisdom. Here he was, with three children who had little to entertain themselves with (this was before the wide availability of the internet) and who were disconnected from their culture and extended family. Storytelling became our way to connect with him after a long day of work; I would spend the day in anticipation of his arrival, holding him in my mind as I live out the rest of my day. Stories were also our only way to connect with our family, whom we’ve never met, and our land that we had never set foot on. Through stories, we learned values important to our family and culture, like honesty and integrity, that I hold dear to me today. The suspense also proved to be a source of endless entertainment as I would imagine and devise all sorts of endings, though they never compared to my Baba’s epic story arcs.

As we continue with social distancing, and as opportunities for entertaining our children decrease, it is important to remind ourselves to do what has worked before. Stories can keep us entertained, yes, but they can also keep us connected in an increasingly disconnected world. What stories can you tell your children? Perhaps a memory you had in your own childhood, perhaps stories that you’ve heard from your own parents, perhaps stories about grandparents, uncles, aunts, or even ancestors, or perhaps stories about historical events and the world that hold value and meaning to you. Through storytelling we connect, learn valuable lessons about what’s important to us, and of course, stay endlessly entertained.


Mawdah Albatnuni is a Registered Psychotherapist (Q) with The Counselling Group’s Refugee and Newcomer Program. She works with individuals and families through a cultural and resilience informed lens, in both English and Arabic. 

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