Literature & Mental Health

South Africa

Should fairy tales be read to children? Clinical psychologist Joanne Zagnoev is interested in how literature reflects psychological development, with fairy tales reflecting a world split into good and evil, and addressing children's fear of evil.

Fairy tales are sometimes quite frightening and parents might be ambivalent about introducing them to children. Children might be frightened by the Big Bad Wolf in grandmother's garb for example, or the evil stepmother offering a poisoned apple disguised as an elderly peddlar of apples. The tale of two vulnerable children, Hansel and Gretel, who have lost their mother and have been cast out by their stepmother, is also unnerving - the hungry, lost children are drawn into an inviting edible house, and taken captive by an evil cannibalistic witch.

Do these tales help children to engage with good and bad in the world, rather than avoiding this dichotomy, or do they introduce unnecessarily scary material? Perhaps it is we as adults who find the fairy tales disturbing, while children find them instinctively relateable, given that they speak to early childhood anxieties, playing them out in a story form where good ultimately prevails?

Joanne makes the point that adult literature progresses into more nuanced character development rather than good/evil splits. Perhaps the splitting is a necessary process for children, as Kleinian thinkers would suggest?

If you'd like to hear more from Joanne, watch her full CPD-accredited talks on Peri-natal Mood and Anxiety Disorders here.

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