How Fairy Tales Make Children Better Humans

Bruno Bettelheim on fairy tales and children:

There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures–the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all men are good. But children know that they are not always good….

Contrary to what takes place in many modern children’s stories, in fairy tales evil is as omnipresent as virtue. In practically every fairy tale good and evil are given body in the form of some figures and their actions….

The figures in fairy tales are not ambivalent–not good and bad at the same time, as we all are in reality…. Presenting the polarities of character permits the child to comprehend easily the difference between the two, which he could not do as readily were the figures drawn more true to life, with all the complexities that characterize real people.

Ambiguities must wait until a relatively firm personality has been established on the basis of positive identifications. Then the child has a basis for understanding that there are great differences between people, and that therefore one has to make choices about who one wants to be.


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