My four-year-old granddaughter Mirabel came into my office and announced, “I want to make a book!” (She had seen her older sister do this and wanted in on the action.)
We folded some sheets of paper together, stapled them, and numbered the pages. Then I asked her, “What’s the book about?” Without hesitating, she said, “Why are nightmares so scary?” I told her that was a great title and we wrote it on the front cover.
Then, Mirabel proceeded to fill the pages with illustrations: a green goblin, a haunted house (that looked a little like the leaning tower of Pisa), a ghost, and some other scary things. As she worked, it struck me that she was doing art therapy!
The innate wisdom in children—isn’t it amazing? Somehow, Mirabel had found a way to manage her fears.
Wisdom and fear. Interestingly, this is what a lot of children’s literature is about, especially the fairy tales—as I’ve mentioned before.
Think how many fairy tales deal with children being separated from or losing their parents—which is the number one childhood fear. For example, Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their own parents in the dark woods and left to die!
But the story lets small readers “play” with that fear in a safe, “once upon a time” setting. They vicariously imagine themselves outwitting the wicked witch and helping each other find their way home, bringing the treasure they’ve found.
Message: “Yes, the world can be a big, scary place. But if you are brave and keep your wits about you, you’ll be able to find your way.”
Maurice Sendak explores the management of fear in his book, Where The Wild Things Are. The little boy Max dances with the monster-like creatures and becomes king of the Wild Things.
I told Mirabel that story, then I said, “I don’t really know why nightmares are so scary. But I know that you are stronger than your nightmares.” Her eyes lit up, she grinned and said, “Oh!”