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Once upon a time

Family Matters – August, 2007

By Lisa K. Schkloven, LCSW-C
Once upon a time, when you were a child, perhaps you listened to fairy tales and believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. Although some adults may discourage these beliefs, fairy tales and folklore mythology actually serve an important function in the lives of young children.
Developmental psychologists maintain that children begin developing their values as early as 3 years old. Fairy tales provide children with a medium to help them begin exploring moral issues and everyday dilemmas. Because the stories are attractive and stir the imagination, they can stimulate and instruct their moral development. Fairy tales invite children to draw parallels between their own experience and the events and dilemmas in the stories they are told.

Fairy tales are replete with important characters and themes. Heroes and heroines teach children that goals can only be achieved with hard work. Evil characters teach children that bad behavior is eventually punished, a theme that satisfies children’s need for justice. Stories in which the youngest or smallest person succeeds show children characters with whom they can identify and allow them the opportunity to dream big dreams.
Fairy tales also deal with a variety of themes, such as sibling rivalry, the importance of not judging a person by his or her appearance, and the significance of keeping a promise. These stories also teach valuable lessons—for example, that hard work pays off, how one behaves is more important than how one looks, and that virtue makes life more worthwhile.

A Wonderful World
Just as fairy tales serve an important purpose in the lives of children, folklore mythology helps children bridge the gaps between their fears and fantasies in relation to real events.
The ancient Greeks and Romans created mythological beings to explain what they could not understand. Similarly, modern-day mythological beings, such as the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, allow children a way to process information about their lives that their limited critical thinking skills may otherwise make more difficult to understand. These figures also nurture children’s sense of wonder as they learn to negotiate the real world.
Generally, children lose their first teeth at 5 or 6, an age when they leave preschool and venture into elementary school. Losing a tooth can be frightening to a child. The Tooth Fairy helps children deal with that fear by giving them something to look forward to, and reminds us that with each baby tooth lost, the child takes another step toward growing up. The Tooth Fairy also reinforces the importance of believing in something, even when children cannot concretely see it. By putting their teeth under their pillows and going to sleep with the full belief that the Tooth Fairy will come, children venture into the world of faith.

Believing in Santa Claus also is an act of faith. Many children draw parallels between Santa Claus and God. Some theologians speculate that Santa Claus closely resembles God—he is omnipresent, omniscient, all-good, all-just, and eternal. He rewards the good and punishes the bad. Santa Claus personifies nurturing and generosity, providing a tangible example of the importance of giving to others. Santa Claus can be a role model for benevolence, selflessness, and cooperation, values that many parents strive to model for their own children.

While the Easter Bunny may not appear to have anything to do with Easter, there is a correlation. Easter received its name from Eastre, a pagan Saxon goddess whose symbols were the hare and the egg. As Easter is celebrated in the springtime, the hare and the egg provide symbols of birth, rebirth, the cycle of life, and eternal life. Perhaps the Easter Bunny provides children with a friendly, furry, and fun way to celebrate a holiday that otherwise may seem too abstract to understand. The concept of death is both difficult and frightening for young children to grasp. Resurrection and rebirth are even more abstract and may prove to be more than they can comprehend. The Easter Bunny, who hides eggs for youngsters to find, allows children an enchanting way to begin to embrace the concept that eternal life is found only through search and discovery.

In time, children stop listening to fairy tales and stop believing in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny. This usually corresponds with their increasing ability to handle abstract concepts and to deal with difficult challenges in their lives because of their accumulated life experiences. These changes happen to all children.
Until that time, enjoy your child’s sense of wonder and nurture it through fairy tales and beliefs in folktale mythology. BC

Lisa K. Schkloven, LCSW-C, has been a clinical social worker for 25 years and is the mother of two children. Her clinical expertise is in child and adolescent development. She is the coordinator of The Parent Resource Place of Jewish Family Services (JFS), which provides education and support for parents and children. JFS, an agency of THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, provides family and individual support services, including a wide range of programs and services for children, teens, adults, and families. For more information about JFS, call 410-466-9200.

©Baltimore’s Child – August, 2007

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