Boo! Can reading scary stories benefit children?

Boo! Can reading scary stories benefit children?
Photo by Roman Denisenko on Unsplash

Yes. Reading spine-chilling tales with your children may teach them some important life lessons. No, you shouldn’t be scaring the pants off your kids, but it’s okay for them to read some scary stories or get scared of the bogeyman every once in a while.

Many parents keep children away from scary books (TV Shows and movies), in an effort to protect their kids.  Some parents worry that the stories’ evil characters may send the wrong message. So they replace the traditional story of Hansel and Gretel for one that ends with the witch becoming a vegetarian. Or they steer clear of these tales altogether – hoping to ensure that their child will sleep nightmare-free ever after. But scary tales serve an important purpose. Frightening stories can not only provide great entertainment but also help kids through key developmental stages. Scary Stories can help children learn to deal with fear in real life.

What is scary and what is not?

While the notion of what’s scary varies widely from one person to another, some fears – such as of death – are primal and common to most people. “Scary Stories” can include Ghost stories or stories about the supernatural, stories that exposes life’s dark complexities, stories that disappoint or disturb, stories about death, violence or about negative feelings like hate, injustice, greed etc. The intensity of what’s scary also varies from person to person. Some children may find a witch scary while others can handle those and more!

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Reading scary stories can benefit children. Here is how:

  1. Scary stories give children (adults too) an outlet to their emotions. Fears come out of the unconscious mind and should not be dismissed. They’re to be engaged with and used creatively. The reason we have fear is so that we can judge situations and make appropriate responses. So if we take that feeling away from children, we make them less capable of existing efficiently and effectively in the world.
  2. Scary stories help children forge resilience and gives them a sense of control over fear. Children will encounter “scary situations” (fears of getting lost or abandoned, parents dying, being less loved that a sibling) and knowing how to confront fear can benefit them and help them with cope with difficult situations.
  1. It helps children use their imagination in different ways. It provides them a world that they can control, to a certain extent. For instance, they can always close the book and walk away when they get scared or disappointed. Reading scary stories gives them the coping skills to be able to do that with their thoughts, so they no longer have to get rid of the thought or image. They don’t have to like it, but they also know it’s not going to do them any harm.
  1. It also gives children a rush of adrenaline when facing fears and scary events without having to go into real danger. It helps them to deal with fears in a safe environment. Scary stories and even nightmares can act as rehearsals for real-life fear. Imagine the feeling of getting lost in a good horror story and being afraid to turn the page to find out what is behind the door or in the attic or out in the woods!
  1. Scary stories can also be a helpful tool to develop confidence. For example, when they finish watching a scary movie, or even a roller coaster ride, they end up with a sense of accomplishment – that they made through something they thought was scary. This boosts their self-esteem and teaches children that while things might be scary sometimes, it’s possible to make it through!
  1. Scary stories can also help children differentiate between good and evil. By exploring the dark side of humanity and the nature of fear, kids learn more about themselves(their strengths and weaknesses, etc.) and become more empowered because of it.
  2. Scary stories can teach some life lessons. For example, staying out late and not telling your parents where you are can be dangerous or walking into a forested area at night looking for a lost pet is a bad idea. Reading horror-infused stories can give children a healthy dose of paranoia.
  3. Reading scary stories together can help children bond with their parents. Parents can read to children and they can talk about and explain the themes as they do so. If your children read on their own, you can talk to them about what they are reading and discuss it too. Such discussions can lead to deeper conversations about life.
  1. Because books are less graphic than movies, children tend to be less disturbed by scary books than movies. So choose the books over the movies!

Discuss fear

Reading scary stories - Does it benefit your child
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We often cushion our children more than required. Risk and fear are something children need. It is well known that people who take risks do better in the long run than those who don’t. But how can one feel safe and secure until they know what it is like to be afraid? Scary stories give you a wide range of emotions in a safe and controlled environment and this will definitely benefit children (and adults too).

It is important to resist the urge to make everything all right by assuring children that ghosts or monsters don’t really exist or that their fears are baseless. It is better to help them understand and manage their fears. That means discussing what they’re afraid of, and why. Over time, parents can delve deeper into whether a fear is rational or irrational. Children need to know that everyone experiences fear and that it’s one of many feelings that come and go. And remember to never use fear to scare children into obedience

Know what will work for your child

Choose stories that match your children’s individual levels. Some children are highly sensitive or prone to nightmares and some can’t handle uncomfortable stories at all. Some children may lap it all up while others may like them in small doses, but not at bedtime. Reading scary stories during the day gives some time to process feelings. So choose appropriate time and story to read to them. Don’t force stories or pictures. Know your child’s disposition, feelings, and emotions and only read scary stories when they are comfortable and only those that they are comfortable with.

Where to draw the line

What Books Are Too Scary or Violent for Kids? Say YES to the stories that take place in a moral universe, where evil is punished or at least fought against. Say NO to the tales that don’t reward good over evil.

Being scared and being terrorized are two different things. Know the difference and don’t cross the line between these.  Let the kids follow their interests, but be a good guardian rather than an oppressive guard. Children will learn how to cope with fear in a low-stakes setting and be more prepared for the many real obstacles they’ll face in life.

Let your children experience scary stories because they provide a foundation to build a life where they can stand up against the true monsters of this world. If they don’t learn to deal with make-believe monsters, how can they handle the real ones?

Kids develop bravery and confidence; they’re not born with it. So scare your kids today! Do it right and they’ll thank you when they’re older.

Want to know why is being scared so fun? Watch this video.

Want to know which book to start with? Check out the Best Spooky Reads for Kids.

Do you allow your children to read scary stories? Let us know in the comments?

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