My kids have always “scared easy.” I remember having to sit outside in the movie theater lobby with their trembling lower lips during the scary parts of “Cars”. What scary parts you ask? EXACTLY.
The Three Little Pigs, Watered Down
I’ve discovered something though. They are okay with a little bit of scary as long as justice is served at the end. It’s the scary endings they can’t handle. For years I read them a version of The Three Little Pigs that I figured would be a bit less scary for them. You know, the one where each little pig runs off to his brother’s house to find safety, and then at the end the wolf isn’t really so big and so bad anymore, and ends up just running away when he can’t get into the brick house. Of course, not before he burns his behind and runs off howling. This watered down version attempted to remove the violence and scary parts of the story.
The Three Little Pigs, For Real
Some years later, when I thought they were ready, I read them the real tale. In this version each unwise little pig gets swiftly eaten until only the wise third pig is left, safe in his brick home. When the big bad wolf can’t blow his house down he comes down the chimney, falls into a pot of boiling water, and gets cooked for the pig’s supper! In this version the big bad wolf is the only thing that gets watered down.
I wondered how my faint-hearted, Cars-fearing children would do when presented with this tale. They shocked me. I saw no fear, only signs of relief. “Phew. Finally, the pig took care of that big bad wolf.” They were less scared now than they were with the watered-down version! They were actually relieved to have witnessed the demise of the evil, big bad wolf. They needed the comfort of knowing that the big bad wolf would not be huffing and puffing at our front door.
Stories Are Reflections of the Reality of the World
When you have an archetype of a character that represents evil and bad, it’s not so frightening to have them killed, psychologically speaking. The more frightening thing for them was having the wolf live on, lying in wait for his next victim. Justice served makes the story less scary.
Kids instinctively know that evil and danger are a real part of this world. They want the comfort of knowing that in the end evil will be defeated. Equally important is understanding that their own choices can protect them from danger. Notice that in the watered down version, no one has control over his fate. Things just happen to them.
Two other related notes
All in all, I have noticed that my kids are more sensitive to what they see than what they read. Parents, be careful about what your kids watch. It sticks with them forever, and all those feelings of fear and uncertainty they experience can stick with them too. Hours in the lobby at the movie theater are better than hours awake in the middle of night dealing with nightmares, I always say.
I believe you should always read and preview what your kids are reading and watching, at least when they are young. There isn’t a book, website, or show that my young kids watch that I haven’t either watched first or watched with them. When I did my student teaching in an elementary school classroom I was amazed at my lead teacher; she read every single book that all the kids in her class were reading so she would know what they were reading and be able to spark discussions and ask them questions. In this sometimes too-scary world, I think that’s a great practice to know what your kids are taking in.
More From Layers of Learning
Want an un-watered down curriculum? Robust, real, and able to arm your kids for the world? Take a look at Layers of Learning.
You might also like these other posts about our philosophy on learning and homeschool.