Children need fairy tales. Pedagogical values of fairy tales

Seminar Paper, 2005

12 Pages, Grade: 1,9


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Bruno Bettelheim’s Biography

3. Why do children need fairy tales?

4. Characteristics of fairy tales and related educational values

5. Examples

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In today's age of mass media, the Internet and constant progress, it is hard to believe that there are stories that have existed for centuries and yet are always widely up-to-date. The stories of courageous princes, poor or sad girls, good fairies, evil witches and many other magical beings never seem to be forgotten from the memory of the adults and also to inspire the children again and again. Due to the great popularity of fairy tales, I would like to present the reasons for this in this work on the one hand and, on the other hand, deal, above all, with the effect that fairy tales have on children. In this consideration I refer to both pedagogical and psychological aspects, which I would also like to explain on the basis of some well-known fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. In this presentation, I will refer, among other texts, above all to the book "Kinder brauchen Märchen" by Bruno Bettelheim.

2. Bruno Bettelheim’s Biography

Bruno Bettelheim was born on August 28, 1903, as the son of a sawmill owner, in Vienna. At the age of fourteen he already showed interest in psychoanalysis and soon moved in the circle around Siegmund Freud. In 1938 he completed his studies in philosophy with a thesis on Immanuel Kant. In the same year, Bettelheim was transferred as a Jew to the Dachau concentration camp and later to Buchenwald. After ten months, he was allowed to emigrate to the USA. In 1944 he became head of the orthogenic school there and assistant professor of child and adolescent psychology, psychiatry and pedagogy, with autistic children being one of his main focuses. Bettelheim's works are characterized by a plea for humanity and understanding. His life came to an end after a stroke in 1990. His works, which he wrote mainly on child upbringing, include "Ein Leben für Kinder" (1987), "Themen meines Lebens" (1990) and "Kinder brauchen Märchen" (1982). (cf.:

3. Why do children need fairy tales?

Bruno Bettelheim's title is "Kinder brauchen Märchen". This title sounds so natural, so I would first like to explain why children need fairy tales.

When you think of fairy tales, old childhood memories occur and you think about what it was like when you got the fairy tales read aloud. Above all, it is the feeling of security and warmth that one has experienced through one's parents or grandparents. In this moment, its seems that there is noone else than the one who is reading the fairy tale and, of course, the magical content of the fairy, for the child. A child at this moment enjoys this complete attention of the adult. Especially in the fast pace of today, it is very important to take time for your child and to pay attention to it intensively. And that's not to say that while the child is playing, the parent is just sitting next to it. This affection will have a positive effect on the child and the parents individually, as well as on the relationship between the two.

In addition to this personal closeness in the family, the fairy tales have a positive effect on the child in many ways. Since they reach the children in such a way that they can show them solutions in coping with their problems, they naturally also contribute to the development and development of the personality. Character traits, such as diligence and laziness, beauty and ugliness, jealousy, curiosity and arrogance or strength and weakness, should be recognized and understood by the children. Apart from that, the fairy tales show the child very obviously, through the punishment of evil and the reward of good, what justice means and rather unconsciously how they can order their inner emotional chaos. In addition, they can give the child an idea of norms and values, on the one hand through the sharp distinction between good and evil and on the other hand through the actions of the heroes. I will go into all these points and others in more depth in the next point.

Of course, fairy tales also have a media-educational value, because the children can practice dealing with literature with such easy stories. This is how interest and curiosity in literature may be aroused and thus a path to later literature is paved.

For a child, it is, of course, also important if they has read something, to talk to someone about what they have read or to clarify any uncertainties that may have arisen. This brings us back to the point that parents or other family members should be there for the child.

4. Characteristics of fairy tales and related educational values

Although there are various forms of literature for children, it is the fairy tales that appeal most to the still undeveloped spirit of children. Although they do not deal with the problems that children can have in this day and age, they can be related to the internal conflicts to which children often feel helplessly exposed.

For grimm's fairy tales, children between the ages of four and eight are mentioned as addressees (Geldern-Egmond, 2000, p. 19).

A fairy tale contains a lot of elements and characteristics that seem to be based exactly on the developmental stage of the children and they can get involved in the story without any problems. What is meant here is, on the one hand, the simple language and the structure, which makes the fairy tales so easy to read and understand, and on the other hand, the "Verknüpfung von realen und imaginären Geschehensebenen im Märchen" (Geldern-Egmond, 2000, p. 19).

Through this above all very simple and also pictorial representation, the fairy tale gives the child the freedom to dream and, above all, to stimulate and enrich its imagination. This will also benefit them in their later life, because often a little creativity and imagination is enough to find a way out of a problem situation. Through the fairy tales, the children are also partly offered an approach that they can follow in order to solve existing problems independently. On the one hand, this promotes the striving for autonomy and, on the other hand, lays the foundation for the child to cope with individual life.

The characters in the fairy tales are never mentioned by a name as we usually know them. They have names that refer more to their characteristics and character. Thus Cinderella got her name, by sleeping in the ashes and a boy, who is considered less gifted in a family and from their point of view does not achieve anything, is usually called a dumb. Based on these simple names, a child can identify themselves with the figures and their way of life more easily.

According to Piaget's thinking, the world of children's eyes is always only black or white, which means that children can distinguish between two extremes, such as good and evil, but they find no middle ground in this phase of development. In this phase, the magical elements in the fairy tale come to their aid. Bruno Bettelheim calls this intensity of feelings the "innere Chaos" in children (Bettelheim, 2003, p. 87). Likewise in the fairy tales the good is strictly separated from the bad, so there is a certain polarization (Bettelheim, 2003, p.16). Some recurring characters, such as the witch or the stepmother, embody the evil in every fairy tale. With the help of this polarization, a child can put their inner chaos in order. In addition, through the certainty of a good outcome, the child can be given an emotional life security ( 10.03.2005).

In fairy tales, a repulsive character, who can also seem threatening, after a twist in the story, often becomes a friendly person, to whom the child can develop a positive attitude. As an example, one could mention the frog in "The Frog Prince" or the disguised king in "King Thrushbeard". Just like the child gets to know this character better, it can also happen to them in reality: a child who is only a stranger can cause them discomfort, but after getting to know them, this child can turn into a good friend. These different characters are intended to support the child in the development of an individual conception of man. They should not make a hasty decision or condemn something too early, but should acknowledge and honor every human life. The same applies to nature and the animals that live in it.

Often the heroes with their wonderful powers are a role model for the children and they identify themselves with that character. With this identification, says Bruno Bettelheim, a child can compensate for the real or imagined weaknesses of their own body, in their imagination, thus causing their body to do everything it desires, and as soon as this wish is fulfilled, in the imagination, the child can be content with their body (Bettelheim, 2003, p. 69). If the children have identified themselves with the hero of a fairy tale, they will also develop their own system of norms and values for themselves. Because a fairy tale hero is a role model for the child, it will act as the hero does.

The fairy tale also teaches the child to be content with what you have. If a child wishes to be able to do magic, for example, the fairy tale makes it clear to them that they first have to do something to be able to do magic, like their role model. Meanwhile, however, the child realizes that they can solve some problems independently. Even if the children could then do magic, they would realize that conjuring themselves is not useful, since they could already solve conflicts on his own.

Since fairy tales often have quite evil and creepy content, for example, about witches wanting to eat children or a wolf devouring a grandmother and granddaughter, the question also arises, whether this does not frighten the children.

If you want to answer this question, you may not only focus on one of these evil acts, but you also have to note that the villain also gets a penalty for it. Eva Baumann - Lerch writes that it is even good for the children if, for example, the witch is burned at the end, so evil is defeated ( 10.03.2005). And this does not seem cruel in the children's eyes, but only just. Through the polarization of evil and good, the children’s sense of justice is also addressed, because in the fairy tale those who receive a punishment are punished and those who fight their way through to a happier life with much effort and zeal, are rewarded.

Children who read Little Red Riding Hood, for example, develop a strategy that does not see the wolf as an evil animal, but splits the figure of the grandmother into two different people (Bettelheim, 2003, p. 79). On the one hand the good and on the other hand the evil grandmother, in the form of the wolf. In this evil person, the child can not find any resemblance with the dear grandmother and thus the good image remains untouched. It can also be helpful if their mother is angry or the child cannot deal with the contradictory feelings. The mother’s character is divided into the good and evil, the child can leave out the negative feelings on the evil mother and nothing can thus destroy the good image of the mother or make the child despair.

5. Examples

5.1. Hansel and Gretel

In view of today's problems, this fairy tale seems to begin very realistically. A family that lives in poverty and sees a way out only in sending their two children away. The siblings feel abandoned and are afraid of being abandoned in the forest and starving to death there. Hansel's first attempt to get back home succeeds, but still does not change the situation that they are not yet destined to be back home. Because on the next attempt, Hansel takes breadcrumbs to mark the way, but these are of course eaten by the birds. This action describes Bettelheim as a "Weg der Regression und Verleugnung" (Bettelheim, 2003, p.184), which does not let Hansel use the mind any longer.

Arriving at the witch's house, the two want to bring the gingerbread house down out of hunger and despair. On the one hand, the house symbolizes the "orale Gier" that Hansel and Gretel would like to pursue and on the other hand it is also a symbol for the mother, who has always provided the children with food and "ihren Körper für die Ernährung der Kinder hergibt" (Bettelheim, 2003, p.185). So while the siblings begin to eat up the roof and windows, they hear a warning voice, which the two ignore by fooling themselves and blaming it on the wind. Hansel and Gretel fully indulge in their it-impulses and do not seem to recognize the danger of annihilation. Only when Hansel sits in the cage and is supposed to be eaten by the witch just as the two have eaten their house, the two seem to recognize the impending danger and a higher stage of development opens up for them (Bettelheim, 2003, p. 185), in which they give in to the urges of the it and act according to their ego; this change manifests itself in good ideas and purposeful action. Hansel shows a knuckle instead of the finger and Gretel pushes the witch into the oven and the two are saved. This may sound very cruel, but from a child's point of view it is justified for the witch to burn, because a child assumes that an older person can behave better than a child.


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Children need fairy tales. Pedagogical values of fairy tales
University of Cooperative Education Breitenbrunn
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ISBN (eBook)
children, pedagogical
Quote paper
Susann Colditz (Author), 2005, Children need fairy tales. Pedagogical values of fairy tales, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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