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Book launch address by psychologist Margot Murphy

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In introducing Rosemary’s book I would like to briefly outline the context that it draws from in literature and highlight the important role that this kind of book plays in the psychological and emotional development of children.

When I first read the book it jumped out at me the type of book this was and the value of it. There is a tendency amongst some people to downplay the importance of childhood. We use terms such as “the adult world” to mean that which is serious and important, in contrast to “child’s play” to designate that which is trivial or unimportant.

38 years ago child psychologist Bruni Bettleheim published his ground-breaking work The Uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. In it he offered an explanation of the meaning and purpose of fairy tales in the lives of children.

Traditional fairy tales have survived in diverse cultures over many generations because they contribute something important to the developing child. Just because they are little people doesn’t mean they have little feelings! Anyone who has witnessed a 2 year old having a tantrum will agree with this. It is inevitable that children will have to grapple with fears, anger, frustration and confusion. Traditional stories allow the child to deal with these feelings in symbolic form. The stories are populated by mysterious or scary beings – threatening adults such as wicked witches, evil step parents and ferocious giants, not to mention the nameless monsters that lurk in every dark corner.

monsters-cover

Good children’s stories give them a way to grapple with the frightening aspects of their world in a safe environment. Far better than the sanitised, saccharine version by certain media conglomerates that we all may be able to recognise … real children’s stories help them to meet and defuse the fearful parts of a child’s psyche. They play an important part in the child’s emotional development.

Because children’s stories are read to them by adults, they can be in a place where feelings are explored with adult help. In this child-adult interaction, the child allows the adult both to expand their ideas and imaginings, and to set limits on their feelings in a way that they are unable to do themselves. Anyone who knows the work of Alan Shaw will be familiar with this.

Scary monsters are confronted and in the process become less scary. Intense fears are bought into perspective with the help of a supportive adult. It is no accident that all fairy stories have a happy ending (for the central character at least, if not for the wicked witch, evil step parent or monster). Often the happy ending is brought about by a kindly adult such as the fairy godmother in Cinderella or the good woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood.

With good children’s stories, a child learns that there are scary monsters, but they are not as scary as they first seem. The child learns to delight in the power of their imagination as well as to regulate their own emotional reactions to the world and its challenges.

In her book Are You Afraid of Monsters? Rosemary has drawn on this rich understanding of the role of stories in children’s emotional development. With the collaboration of Cameron Singleton, she has created a conversation between a child, and her grandmother, asking if she is afraid of monsters. The monsters that the grandmother and the child conjure up begin as frightening. Through the interaction with the adult, the imaginary monsters are progressively reduced in stature and fearsomeness, the child then learns that they can use their imagination to modify their imagination-based fears. Step by step they learn to control their response to challenges by themselves.

It is my great honour and pleasure to launch Are You Afraid of Monsters? and, in the reading of it which is to follow, I hope you will agree that Rosemary has succeeded in creating a story for children which has hidden power to nurture their emotional development. I think you should all buy at least three copies!

Margot Murphy, Psychologist