How life stories close the generation gap

Spilling the beans on minor childhood misdeeds and youth adventures can help older family members bond with younger ones and deliver a wellbeing boost. SEE HOW.

Spilling your true stories can overcome any age gap and create life-changing closeness across generations.

And experts say Australia’s ageing population is a profound opportunity to introduce “grandfriends” into childcare and education settings for multi-gen storytelling.

Griffith University Emeritus Professor Anneke Fitzgerald says bodies and brains of all ages benefit when young and old come together and swap stories.

Professor Fitzgerald points to the Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice’s Bridging Ages life stories project, which shows “it may delay some cognitive and physical decline” in older people, while younger children “develop a level of empathy that is very, very evident.”

Her team’s research even suggests that when three to five-year-olds mix with older people, it may reduce their later delinquency as teens.

“What we do know is it creates very good and strong relationships,” she says.

One-on-one time with an album or book seems to works best.

“That’s the highest level of engagement you can have: sitting with a child on your lap reading a book with them.,” she says.

Such tactile, visual elements add layers as a shared sensory experience.

Grandfather of five Riley Lee also says watching his wife Patricia share family stories with their grandkids gives him a wellbeing boost by proxy.

“I get great pleasure listening to Patricia tell stories … about her childhood and watching how they listen to her with wonderful concentration,” he says.

One of those grandchildren, Oskar Lee, 11, says his grandparents “use photos to describe the stories”, like their picture board with his mum holding a puppy and his aunt dressed as an astronaut.

Funny, strange and suspenseful stories often succeed more than morality tales, as when Oskar’s country-raised grandma was once followed home from school.

Footsteps and eerie moaning close behind her turned out to be a snuffling pig – but the tale’s delicious mix of terror and trotters make it a family favourite.

Oskar says his grandparents’ interesting stories, “where something either bad or funny happens … helps me understand what it was like for them. I can piece together bits of their life that were similar to mine … and connect them somehow.”

Those childhood stories also help them all find and enjoy things they have in common.

“My grandpa liked manga* when he was younger and he still does,” Oskar says.

“I like manga, so one day he said, ‘Why don’t we go on a trip with your sister to the city to go to this big bookshop that sells lots of manga’ and so we did that and it was lots of fun.”

Some family tales even have the potential to help with homework and writing tasks.

“You can say, ‘Oh, I know all about that, that happened to my grandparents once’,” Oskar says.

“You could be working on the World Wars … and maybe one of your ancestors fought in it when they were still alive and you can find out about that.”


• Place your story in history by including world events

• Use one-on-one time like driving lessons for trading stories

• Share what you like and discover what you have in common

• Use aids like books, photos and keepsakes

• Remember kids love anything funny, gross or scary

The Kids News 2022 Short Story Competition is accepting entries until Friday 24 June. Click HERE for more information and to enter.

Originally published as Kids News Short Story Competition: Why family tales tall and true help build ties that bind

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