I have often asked myself if I should read scary stories to my kids. They are fascinated by scary stories of course, but I was more concerned about nightmares and exposing them to the darker sides of reality at their tender age.
Take classic fairy tales for example, most of them are made from the stuff of nightmares. Should a young child really be exposed to such horrors as a wolf that eats grandma, a witch that wants to put children in the oven or a piper that takes all the children away from their parents?
The hidden benefits of scary stories and fairy tales
In a previous post I wrote about fears and their role in kids development, as it turns out, scary stories are a great way to process these fears and help children regain confidence in the good order of the world. In fact, fairy tales can help kids face the fears they already have, and find a way to resolve them.
The benefits of scary stories:
- They are entertaining and get kids interested in reading
- They encourage children to discuss their fears
- They can help children through key development stages by helping them face their fears and overcome them
- They help kids lean to cope with distressing realities such as the lose of a loved one, peer conflicts, divorce and other real-life situations. The story enables kids to experience these situations in a detached mode, through the eyes of the hero.
Steven Herb, president of the Association for Library Services for Children and a professor of language and literacy education at Penn State University, emphasizes the importance of reading scary stories to your kids and discussing them:
“No matter how much we talk to kids about issues we think may be bothering them, there’s always the secret part, the fears they have that they know are a little bit crazy and they don’t want to say out loud, that’s where reading stories is tremendously important.”
Some safety rules must be applied
So scary stories are important and can benefits children in many ways, but reading such stories should be done responsibly:
- Choosing the right story – Choose a story that fits your child’s age, there is no point in reading a horror story to a young child
- The witch must die – The monster or evil character must be beaten at the end. Children project their “good” traits on the good hero, and their “bad” traits on the villain. When the villain loses, it helps children understand that they are not powerless and can win and conquer their bad traits.
- Discussion – Talking about a story always helps, especially if the story provokes strong emotions. This is your chance as a parent to catch a glimpse into the inner workings of your child’s mind.
Remember, the most important thing is to make sure that the child is not left with a feeling of confusion, fear or helplessness after reading a scary story. If so, discussion is encouraged in order to find the source of the troubling thoughts or emotions and resolve them. Eventually, the child should have clarity and feel in control.
“When kids feel in control, the things they fear cease to be scary.” says Lawrence Sipe, PhD, a professor of children’s literature at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education in Philadelphia.
You may also want to check “Draw Me A Monster”, a unique process that uses humor and art to help kids overcome fears and difficulties.
Photo: From the book Pied Piper of Hamelin