THE clocks have gone back and our evenings are now noticeably dominated by darkness and the advent of storms. Our house is small and overcrowded, and the dark colder nights outside make it seem more so. But this is not a complaint, for another way to describe small and overcrowded is cosy; it’s a time when seasonal change compels us to coorie in.

Well, if I’m being honest, this paints an overly romantic picture of family togetherness, the reality is often very different; characterised by a screaming match between siblings competing for limited technical devices, with myself trying to justify why I’m using the last available laptop to write.

I am aware that screen time has become a real issue for us as a family. It was the lockdown which entrenched this: screens were the way to connect with people, friends, family and even school learning.

They became the default activity and I believe it’s become an unhealthy addiction for us; and as the nights have drawn in, with less opportunity for outside activity and walks in nature, this addiction has the risk of becoming even worse.

I know screens are not all bad, they have benefits and advantages too. . . hell knows, I spend so much time on screens myself.

I think we can be too hard on ourselves at times and I’m aware of that. I’d go to say that some screen time is now important for a variety of reasons. I also recognise that in the last two years they have become a lifeline for many people.

But lately I have been trying my best to practise what I preach as a storyteller. I want to find ways to wean my kids, and myself, from screens to find a healthier balance, a more personal connection which lifts our mental health rather than sapping it.

It’s not been easy. When the kids are asked to come off screens, they often explode with what I call screen rage. It’s as if we are cutting an umbilical cord and removing their life support system, and they must fight and protest to restore it. The drama is predictable and tiring, but the good news is it’s usually relatively short-lived. I’ve discovered that kids are eventually glad when they have been taken off excessive use of screens.

The trick is to have something engaging to replace it with, as well as to model it myself. That’s the thing, it’s so easy to be a hypocrite; to tell my kids it’s the end of screen time, while using my phone or writing on my laptop.

“But you are still on a screen, dad!” was the rebuke from my astute eight-year-old daughter recently. And she was right, so the rules have to apply to me and my wife too.

We are slowly getting there. We have no screens before bedtime now, instead a family storytelling session. The hardest part has been establishing the routine with so much to do. But now the kids look forward to it and help make the living room cosy in preparation.

And I feel the benefits too. It helps me close down that ruminator in my head, which constantly reminds me of how much I have to do, emails I need to reply to, deadlines I need to meet. Instead I become focused on the moment, on the fact I’m sharing the attention of my loved ones and we are all telling stories.

I know this now does sound overly romantic, but the thing is nothing can compare to these moments of connection, such as the magic of listening to my wee boy tell another spontaneous chapter of his tale of the haunted pizzeria, or listening to my girls weave a story rooted in their experiences of the day or a favoured fable from their earlier childhood. And I’ve discovered my wife Kate is a good storyteller when given the opportunity.

Maybe it felt awkward at first, that we were doing it because I thought we should be rather than because we all wanted to. But that awkwardness soon gave way to excited expectation and genuine enjoyment of the experience. And the darkness helps, it’s a blanket which adds atmosphere and allows us to use fairy lights and candles, so in that sense the cold and dark of this time of year is a huge advantage: it’s the season for cosy storytelling.

The flicker of screens still shine more regularly than the storytelling candles in our house. But the balance is slowly changing. Hallowe’en helped, it seemed such a natural time for storytelling. And I think I can say we have now established our storytelling sessions as a regular family tradition. When it happens, it feels like ancient magic has entered our house.

I run storytelling sessions with parents and many share the challenges I recognise in my own family. All families are different, of course, and no child is the same. But if a family storytelling tradition can be established, everyone feels the benefits. Even if only every now and then, they will be times of real connection that everyone will remember.

So if you fancy trying it and would like my short guide with some reflections and tips, drop me an email. Or maybe you have tips and experiences you’d like to share; recently, a parent told me that bath time was storytelling time in her house, as she sat on the toilet telling favoured tales to her young children! Great idea!

Now is the perfect season to give it a go… for as many a storyteller has said: “…it was a dark, stormy night…”