Scaring Children (A Benefit of Books)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? How about the evil queen?

I was afraid of both. As a kid, I stood up during the movie version of Snow White and, at the top of my lungs, begged the title character not to eat the poisoned apple. I was devastated when she didn’t listen to me.

Two of my three children are just like I was. They do not enjoy Grimm’s fairy tales, and they’re having a hard time finishing the Harry Potter series. Voldemort’s tricks are far worse than anything the evil queen ever did.

Normally, I wouldn’t strongly encourage my girls to read a novel that scares them, but Harry Potter is an exception. How are they going to communicate with their peers if they don’t know what Hogwarts is? They need to read the series for cultural literacy. They also need to read it to face their fears.

According to psychologist Emma Kenny, as quoted in a recent Guardian article, being frightened by fictional experiences helps children “forge resilience”:

When you are reading a scary story to a child, or they’re reading to themselves, the child has got a level of control – they can put it down, or ask you to stop. And the story can raise a discussion, in which they can explore and explain the way they feel about a situation.

I read the first book in the series, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, to my twins two years ago. Now, reading on their own, one is in the middle of the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, while the other is in the middle of the second, The Chamber of Secrets.

So far, most of their conversations have focused on how scary the books are, but they’re definitely mesmerized by the wizarding world. Last weekend, I overheard the following conversation:

S: “I want to be in Ravenclaw. How about you?”

M: “Ravenclaw too, but do you think mom will tell the sorting hat to separate us?”*

S: “I don’t think the sorting hat cares what she thinks.”

Ha. Well, Ravenclaw is probably a good option for them. They don’t have the courage required for Gryffindor. Not yet.


My Four Kids (including my adorable nephew) watching the first Harry Potter movie
My four kids (including my adorable nephew) watching the first Harry Potter movie


*We’ve separated our twins into different classrooms since they were two. We agonized over the decision. For more on this topic, see A Controversial Parenting Decision: Separating Twins in School and Boo: The Things Parents Don’t Know Are Often The Most Important.




  1. It was an interesting read, your article. As a kid, I was never easily scared by books, be it HP or Hardy Boys. Yet Goosebumps gave me the chills. But yeah, these books helped me grow and ask questions. Also, I’m glad your kids are reading HP so young! The series has presumed too much importance now a days for apparent reasons…

  2. While it’s a tricky balance, I think there are great benefits to kids reading books that scare them. One of the most beautiful things about fiction is that is gives us a place to confront things that scare, disturb, or confuse us in a “safe place.”

  3. I love your new header btw, your kids are so cute!
    Glad your twins are reading the HP books on their own now and it does seem important to read scary lit. I think lots of kids also love being scared and grossed out? I remember being fearless as a kid of stuff in movies and books but you know getting older now has me much more jumpy when watching or reading horror. My mom used to read me the Grimm’s fairytales when I was little and then we read together when I was learning to read. But she read me the normal, not kid’s version, and I think this definitely made me a kid who appreciated scary stories. Nothing else is quite as scary as Grimm’s after dark 😀

    1. Thanks for the compliment on the new header. I wish it had all three of my kids in it, but I like how it shows our city. I’m impressed that you loved Grimm’s fairy tales when you were a kid. They were too scary for me. I think you’re right that many kids love to be scared, but I just wasn’t one of them. My kids (well, two of them) are the same way.

  4. I was a big scaredy-cat as a kid, and I don’t think I could have handled the Harry Potter books if I’d been reading them a few years earlier. Even the first one is quite scary — the unicorn blood! eek! But it’s awesome that your kids are reading and enjoying them. What a neat experience to be able to pass those along to the next generation.

    1. It’s lovely to share books with my kids. That’s one of the parts of parenting I enjoy the most. I am so glad my girls (all three) love books as much as I do. My twins are now hooked on the Harry Potter series. One is almost done book 5 and the other is almost done book 4. 🙂

  5. Books never scared me, but then I grew up with The Black Stallion, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys Mysteries. 🙂 Fantastical from time to time, but no magic involved (until a later book in the Island Stallion books, whereby an alien transported the horse to a track so he could race and win).

    Magic might be the element that makes things scary for kids. You can’t control it, the young readers know they don’t have it, and there’s no protection against it.

        1. Yes! I think they’re ready for a reintroduction to her. I loved those books when I was in 3rd and 4th grade. They’ll be starting 3rd grade on Tuesday.

  6. My youngest child was scared of various books and movies. We agonized over taking him with his older sister and cousins to see the first Harry Potter movie when he was just five, and finally decided he could go (it wouldn’t be the first movie I sat with him outside, we figured). He loved it, and then devoured all the books. He still has never read Coraline by Neil Gaiman, though.

    1. I remember spending so much time in the lobbies and bathrooms of movie theaters when I was a kid because I was scared of the movie. My older two are the same way. I’m glad to hear that your son enjoyed the Harry Potter movie and then devoured the books. It looks like my girls are having a similar experience. Right now, one is in book 5 and the other is in book 4, and so far, they’ve seen the first three movies. They are scared, but love it too much to stop reading/watching.

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