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Don't panic: why it is good for children to read scary stories and how to do it properly

Don't panic: why it is good for children to read scary stories and how to do it properly
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Polina Dolia

Haunted houses, living dead, ominous curses... Scary stories have always been considered something for older audiences, not worth giving to children. And in vain: there is much more benefit in horror stories than ephemeral harm. But you should be approached wisely to such books. Today we will figure out how to open the forbidden world of scary stories for a child and why this is generally useful.

So let's start simple: a good book doesn't have to have a happy ending. It is sad but happy endings happen with the same probability as bad endings. Yes, this also applies to children's literature. How about "Charlotte's Web", "The Little Match Girl", after all, "White Bim Black Ear"? It is not so important for children who are the main character: a man, a dog or a little spider. It is always sad and can touch even an adult heart, let alone children when the character dies.

Both sad and scary stories resonate with children. A bad ending teaches them compassion, and all sorts of monsters from fairy tales become worthy opponents of the main characters, and without this the story is no longer so interesting. The book becomes much less exciting if you don’t worry - what will happen next with the hero? Will he win? Most of the time it does, but sometimes the story requires the bad guys to win.

Many children's books end up with their "happily ever after". But sometimes a sad ending or a darker story makes the book deeper and more instructive. Children need both.

As already mentioned in the article about the reasons for the love of sad books, any story for us is an opportunity to rehearse a situation, to experience it in a safe and maximally comfortable environment. For children, books work the same way. This is a great way to get to know the world - and, as we know, it consists not only of kind people and rainbow ponies. Stories should show children the full range of sensations available.

So what's the best way to open up a world of dark stories for kids?

Take off your rose-coloured glasses

Yes, every parent wants his child to be happy. But after all, no one can be happy all the time, unless, of course, they hurt their head in childhood and are doomed to be always cheerful. And therefore, the main task of parents is not to protect their child from everything bad, evil and frightening in the world, but to teach how to cope with all this and their emotions as well. Scary books and stories with bad ends are a great tool for this. Moreover, against the backdrop of refined happy fairy tales, where nothing bad ever happens, dark books are much more impressive. Children also want interesting stories where there is struggle, tragedy, difficulties. They need to be scared sometimes. They need to be sad sometimes. Face it.

Start with fairy tales

It's no secret that the sources of popular fairy tales are usually quite creepy. Whether it's Baba Yaga, the brownie, or the true story about Little Red Riding Hood, in ancient times, parents did not spare their children, generously sprinkling fairy tales with scary details or dark plot moves. Take a look at the collections of fairy tales of the peoples of the world and choose a couple that fit. At the same time, raise the level of cultural development of the child a little. By the way, you can read about unusual fairy tales from all over the world in our thematic material.

Try different versions

Conduct one funny experiment: while reading a fairy tale, offer your child several different options for events. For example, in your book about three pigs, they find a common language with the wolf in the finale. Tell the version where he tries to get into the house through the chimney and burns the tail in the fireplace. Or the one where he still gets to two out of three piglets and only one is saved. Remember all the existing variations of the fairy tale and ask the child which one he liked the most. Rest assured, the answer will surprise you.

Be that as it may, every popular fairy tale has somewhat darker counterparts in other cultures, take at least the Chinese "Cinderella" - Yè Xiàn, or the African "Cinderella" - Catskinella, or... In general, you get the hint.

Avoid scary pictures

As attracted as dark stories are, frightening illustrations are more likely to repel them. A child's imagination is already vivid enough to draw creepy pictures in the head from stories - how does it aggravate fear when it receives a visual source! How to feel safe here when such a terrible monster looks at you right from the book. Reading aloud is a good way to soften frightening moments, rather than handing your child a book.

Focus on feelings

Before you open the world of scary stories with a sad end to your child... warn him about it. And then bring out all the acting talent and act as the last time. You are the storyteller, and your audience is the most impressionable in the world. Your tone of voice directly affects how the child perceives the story. And, of course, this is a great tool for regulating the tension in the text: if your child is about to hide under the bed out of fear, then it's time to loosen up your scary tone.

And take your child's feelings seriously. Although the characters in the book are fictional, the feelings they evoke are quite real.

Know your audience

So, the whole article was about how useful it is sometimes for children to get scared or cry over the death of their favourite book hero, but let's make a reservation: this does not work for everyone. Some children are so sensitive that the mere mention of an evil troll in a fairy tale will cause them nightmares for years to come. Others love scary stories, but not before bedtime when darkness is gathering outside the window. Still, others will be delighted with these stories, even if they listen to them in the middle of the night.

Don't be afraid to expose the unsightly side of the world to children. In the end, when they are faced with all the severity of adult life, they will endure it much easier. After all, they have been prepared for this since childhood... fairy tales.

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A Brief History of Reading in Four Acts with Interludes

3 Apr 2021

Arguably, the history of reading is the most curious and non-standard element of book culture, because the process is so natural! We wonder about the origins of book spines, bookmarks, capital letters and archetypal plots, but what about reading itself? From clay tablets to libraries, from reading aloud to speed reading: a fascinating story was under our own very noses all this time. It's time to dig into it.

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