Narrative skills allow us to understand and tell stories. And we’re not just talking about inventing fictional tales! We learn and communicate using stories many times a day. Take a look at some of the ways:

• Reading comprehension
• Re-telling events
• Telling others about ourselves
• Following and giving instructions
• Reporting
• Persuading
• Describing

An individual with poor narrative skills may encounter these challenges:

When reading or listening —

• Struggle to grasp key parts of written or oral stories (books, articles, lectures and so on), such as main idea, character development, and implied meaning
• To answer questions about a text, must repeatedly go back and re-read

When communicating —

• Jump all over the place
• Skip important details
• Go off on tangents
• Go on and on about something

One area especially impacted by poor narrative skills is relationships. Our Assistant Director Melissa Marinelli Izquierdo, MS, CCC-SLP explains that “when someone gets stuck trying to communicate, it feels frustrating for both him and the listener.”

The good news is that parents can nurture narrative skills, starting in babyhood. Here are some tips!

Teaching Your Child Narrative Skills

For babies and toddlers, narrate routines. This teaches your child the “stories” of bedtime, bath time, mealtime, and so on. For example: “We’re in the bathroom (setting). First I’m taking off your clothes (beginning). Now you’re playing while I wash you (middle). Now I’m drying you off and putting on your pajamas (end).”

For babies and pre-verbal toddlers, narrate play. Even if he’s just banging a toy car around, you can invent a mini story about it. This can be as simple as: “Where is the car going? Oh, he’s going to the store. He wants to buy food. Uh-oh! He crashed. But he’s okay. He’s going back home to get a band-aide.”

For verbal children, co-create stories during play. Whether you have a toddler playing with stuffed animals or an older child playing with LEGOs, you can work together to create a story. You can do this even during brief periods of play.

Reminisce. Children love to hear about funny or dramatic things they (or other family members) did in the past. Tell and retell these stories. Eventually you can ask your child to tell them to you.

Ask “wh- questions”. Rather than yes or no questions, which encourage black and white answers, ask questions that start with who, what, when, where, why or how.

Use visual support. Have your child create a linear drawing of a story (what he did at school that day, for example). You can also make tools like these to help your child keep track of different elements of a story.

Read. Reading with your child is one of the best ways to reinforce narrative skills. Talk to him about different parts of the story, asking lots of wh- questions. Be sure to toss in predicting questions, like what he thinks will happen or what a character will do next.

If you suspect your child may need support developing or improving narrative skills, give us or a speech-language pathologist in your area a call. A skilled therapist can evaluate him and, if needed, offer services. We love The Story Grammar Marker®, which uses a hand-held tool with icons to help children learn to keep track of and organize different parts of a story and how it unfolds.

Grownups can struggle with narrative skills, too! A speech-language pathologist who works with adults can help.