Fairy tales are often seen as silly children stories and a lot of people don’t understand the true impact they have on a child’s interpretation of the world around them. Children are being read fairy tales as early as a couple months old all the way into 7 or 8 years old. Parents often see fairy tales as a soothing mechanism for putting their children to sleep or calming them down, but when the child gets older he or she starts to interpret the words and use them to build their own understanding. While aiding primarily in entertainment in children, fairy tales contribute to the understanding of what it is to be human while also discreetly injecting important life lessons and morals.
The psychological effects of fairy tales root in the initial reading of the tale where children ingest the words written on the page. They then start to think about the stories and the problems it presents. How does the main protagonist deal with such dilemma? Most of the time fairy tales have a way of showing the wrong side of a decision and then clear it up by having the main character do something to fix the situation. This presents good moral decision and aids in helping children see the “correct choice” but also bestowing an idea of how to deal with human conflict. These types of skills are very important because they directly correlate with a child’s quality of life, beliefs, or mental health. Fairy tales are crucial to developing children’s imagination as well as their correlation with the world around them:
When listening to fairy tales, children are often deeply affected by their contents and, at the same time, their imagination develops and takes on new shapes. Thus, fairy tales affect child’s emotional, physical and mental development. In particular, it is reflected in the molding of creative processes inspired by one’s depictions of adventures that fairy tales’ main characters have. Through listening, children modify their understanding of the literary work that is read to them and practice the ability to connect separate events. (Klim-Klimaszewska 3700)
Without fairy tales and their teachings children would struggle with moral development and consciousness of right and wrong.
For example, we can look at the story of Cinderella which begins by telling the tale of a poor, beautiful girl who lost her mother, a common fairy tale theme, so she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Cinderella is forced to do strenuous chores while being taunted by her stepsisters. One day she hears of a ball held by the prince and Cinderella decides she wants to go, but her stepmother and sisters have a different idea. They assign her impossible task that she only gets done because of the help from some friendly animals. She then makes it to the ball, where she falls in love with the prince and the prince falls in love with her. The clock strikes midnight and Cinderella races out on the castle leaving a shoe behind. The prince then uses the shoe to search Cinderella out of the whole community and then marries her. They then live happily ever after.
When looking at this story we see how children develop an understanding of how one can surpass their state of deprivation. Cinderella’s story offers hope that one may persevere, even though surrounded by hostile forces, through endurance, and the help of nature. Cinderella also is depicted as very compassionate and nice so when children see this they tend to mimic the character of Cinderella. Not only do children take away the hope that anything can happen, but they also learn a lesson about what kind of people seem to have a better outcome in life. While Cinderella lives happily ever after, her stepmother and stepsisters, who are incredibly cruel and unkind, are left unsatisfied and jealous of Cinderella. Children will notice the parallel between the compassionate princess’s fate and the condescending stepsisters.
Besides all the benefit fairy tales have on children’s development they also help in a therapeutic manner. Children are able to unlock their imagination and escape some of the hurtful, or painful experiences they are exposed to in their everyday life. Not only do they offer an entertaining escape, they also are a harmless and safe way to distract the child from more stressful things going on in their life. Fairy tales also help children who have similar issues of the characters in the story to understand their own situation. In support of this claim, Leilani Johnson, an English student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo wisely relates fairy tales to the internal struggles of children. In this essay she discusses the positive impacts fairy tales can have on children:
For instance, the struggle between good and evil is a frequent theme among fairy tales all around the world. In a therapeutic sense, this can be interpreted as internal conflict or the tension between the id and ego. Many children and young people may suffer from internal conflict whether it is from bullying, teasing, problems at home, etc. Analyzing fairy tales where internal conflict is a major theme can help the therapist determine ways to help his or her client.
Fairy tales often show that good triumphs evil and if children read that theme then they begin to feel a slightly better about their situation. Reading fairy tales don’t fix the situation but they can help the child cope with their everyday life.
Another benefit of fairy tales that many are probably not familiar with is that fairy tales can help young adults who are struggling with an eating disorder. Eating disorders often result as a cause of societal pressure while transitioning into adulthood. Laura Hill, published author in “The Journal of Counseling and Development” conducted a study to prove fairy tales can benefit adolescents with eating disorders stating, “Fairy tales offer possible solutions for young people struggling with transitional problems and anxieties by allowing the eating-disordered client to project his or her desired identity onto the fairy tale and draw self-control from the process” (Hill 584). Patients were able to express things about the fairy tale characters that they could not say about themselves. On patient stated, “Cinderella was her favorite fairy tale because Cinderella overcame her social status” (Hill 584). Psychologists can infer from this that the patient needed to surpass that feeling that she was not enough or wasn’t as cool as other girls. This idea of reflecting the story on yourself to bond to our sense of self helps understand our inner struggles and anxieties, and fairy tales are simply a tool to help initiate this.
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