All children tell stories. If there are few innate, universal parts of childhood, that’s one of them. Put any two elements together, ask a young child about them, and they’ll weave you a story simple or complicated about what those two things have to do with one another. But that tendency, like all creative inclinations, needs support and nurturing to survive into adulthood and mature into a talent.

  • Let them be them a reader. This can’t be forced, but is not hard to instill. Raise your child in a houseful of books, let them see you read, read to them. Give them access to the whole world of stories that are already out there. Teach them all the fairy tales and tell them about how they were not written but distilled from hundreds of small stories told over fires at night by old women.
  • Listen to the stories they tell. If your 5-year-old wants to spend the entire drive to Grandma’s house telling you a long, involved story about the princess shark living in the sink drain and how only he can see her because she’s under a spell by the man in the moon, you listen to that story, and ask him questions that let him keep building it. Don’t ever make your child ashamed to tell stories or afraid that you’ll laugh. You are their first and most important audience and you set their expectations for every audience that comes after.
  • Give them material. Give them as much of the world as you can. Travel, if you can afford it, and teach them how other languages sound. Let them play outside and get a book with the names of all the animals they might find where you live. Talk to them about movies you see together, about their good points and bad points and why the movie writers made certain choices. There is no age too young for that. Give them pen pals on the other side of the country and friends whose parents have jobs very different from yours. Everything in existence is a writer’s education, everything might be the kernel of a story.

You may never see your name on the dedication page of a book by your child. But a writer doesn’t mean a published author. You’ll know if your child has stories packed in their own internal library. It’s up to them in the end to decide if those stories belong inside or out, but you will at least have given them the tools to make that choice.