Life Style

Why fairy tales speak to children

It’s a funny company. For centuries, Puss in Boots, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but also ogres, monsters and witches have invited themselves to the house before sleeping, for the time of the “evening story”. Today like yesterday, at the time of tablets as at the age of evenings around the fire. Well almost.

At the media library of Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine), one thing has become clear in recent years: in competition with more contemporary albums, tales are no longer among the most requested works, even if they find their public, around 7 years old, attracted by very beautiful or very funny, richly illustrated reissues.

In the aisles, two young readers testify to this contrasting attachment. Rose and Sarah are sixth graders and are 11 years old. The first read a lot of stories when she was little, especially The Three Little Pigs whose morals she loved: “We must not make fun of those who take the time to do things well”, she summarizes. The second, on the other hand, discovered them by Disney then at college, where the French teacher made them study Perrault. His parents, like many others of their generation, never read them to him because they found these readings too violent.

Keys to understanding life

According to the clinical psychologist Geneviève Djénati, it is however necessary to read tales to children because these stories of princesses but also of ogres devouring children and wolves with long teeth speak to the youngest. To read a tale would always be to grow a little. To set out to discover the world on the shoulders of a hero, to find through him the keys to understanding the life that opens wide before you, would offer benchmarks that would be difficult to replace.

→ MAINTENANCE. “The children who have the most imagination are those who have been told a lot of stories”

The recipe is immutable: “The frame is always a bit always the same, describes the psychologist: a hero must take up a challenge, despite his impotence, his precocity, will succeed and be led to do great things. The child sees in it an image of his own challenge, which is to grow up. » The tales then present stories of intense feelings – love, hate or fear – conveyed by caricatural characters – the ogre, the prince, etc. – which echo the emotions of toddlers, “at an age when they are moved by very strong impulses, outbursts of love, hate, fear”.

Their symbolism is adapted to the psychology of the youngest. “The marvelous tales offer a universe that they can read because the oppositions are clearly contrasted there : the beautiful and the ugly, the rich and the poor, the good and the bad. But for the young child, the world is organized around contrasting couples that do not include any intermediary. continues Bernadette Bricout, Emeritus Professor of Oral Literature at Paris-Cité University.

Moreover, the child is “animist until the age of reason”, she raises. “For him, the stone is alive since it rolls down the slope, and the torrent too since it descends the mountain. But this way of perceiving the objects around us is exactly the one offered by the tales: animals, plants, household objects are actors in their own right. »

Through their symbolic language, these stories convey messages of life, continues Florence Dutruc-Rosset, editor-in-chief of Beautiful Stories and of My first beautiful stories (Bayard, publisher of The cross) and author. They give a key to understanding the world and an instruction manual: “By addressing all the themes, including the most difficult such as death, the tale shows how to face difficulties and triumph over them, as the hero passes his ordeals. »

An educational function

This is why tackling difficult themes has been the very mission of these stories since the dawn of time, underlines Bernadette Bricout. “The only tales in our oral tradition that were designed for children are those that end badly, she raises. These are the warning tales. A prohibition is formulated, which the hero transgresses, thus calling upon him punishment. These stories have an educational function of warning against possible dangers but participate in what has been called “the pedagogy of fear”. The bogeyman and the bogeyman are very likely to reappear in nightmares. »

If it is understandable, the temptation of some parents to close them before the last page in order to preserve the child would be counter-productive, because it deprives the child of a “happy ending”, the function of which is to reassure. “It would be like saying to the child: we don’t want to hear about the discomfort, the painful emotions, so you’re going to keep them to yourself. When in fact, dragons and monsters are outlets. The child can project the little anger he feels or his sadness on it. It would be a shame to deny his experience.” thus considers Florence Dutruc-Rosset.

New princesses have appeared

Another misunderstanding relates to gender stereotypes. Voices were raised asking to change the end of Snow White, since the poisoned princess would not have been in a condition to give her consent to the prince’s kiss. Without going that far, many parents believe that the models of princesses, necessarily passive, and princes, necessarily valiant, are from another time. Authors have therefore rewritten traditional tales or have diverted them. New princesses have appeared, more voluntary or funnier.

→ CHRONICLE. Please don’t change the ending of “Snow White”!

“It’s an interesting approach to help children get out of conditioning that has no place to be”, believes Florence Dutruc-Rosset, while calling not to project adult interpretations onto children’s perceptions. The prince and the princess embody the two poles between which our psyche oscillates, whether we are a girl or a boy: expectation and action. Also, their marriage, their kiss, symbolizes a form of interior appeasement which authorizes the reader, who recognizes himself in one and in the other, to be complete. » The tales have not said their last word.


To read

psychoanalysis of fairy tales, by Bruno Bettelheim. This classic published in 1976 and still available from Pocket editions analyzes the symbolism of tales and their gallery of characters.

Bernadette Bricout has published numerous books, including: The key to tales, illustrations Olivier Besson (Seuil). The memory of the house. Words from home and tales from home (Albin Michel). La Friquassée crotestyllonnée: rhymes and games of children of yesteryear (Silene)

Starving by Anne-Marie Garat (Actes Sud): an erudite and fascinating rereading of Little Red Riding Hood.


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