Do the children start believing in fairies and magic after being read from a book about how fairies solve/get everything magically?

The child is 2 years old, so at this age it doesn't really matter and even now since I don't want to lie that the girl turned into a pumpkin and frog turned into a man, I just haven't bought any such kind of fairy tale books for her.

Fairy tale books such as above are available here in abundance.
Even when the child is of 4 or 5 years old, I do NOT want the child to think that such fairies and magic actually exists and works.

Here's an interesting link: http://www.theweek.co.uk/religion/59598/children-exposed-to-religion-more-likely-to-believe-in-fairy-tales

What if the child say: "But the book says it is true" - How should I respond to that if that happens?

  • 1
    What makes you think just telling them "so yeah, fairy tales aren't real" won't solve this problem?
    – Erik
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 8:52
  • @Erik Can the child say: "But the book says it is true" - How should I respond to that if that happens? Commented May 27, 2015 at 9:49
  • 3
    Have you ever encountered a grown person who believes fairy tales are indeed true? At some point we all realize people write books and tell stories for entertainment or expression. If anything, the fairy tales may enable them to imagine stories of their own. I'd argue the deception of reality and politics are far more damaging than anything a child may absorb from a fairy tale.
    – Kai Qing
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 21:07
  • 1
    I would love to see some evidence that what you're afraid will happen actually does happen. Without any, you're asking us how to handle a hypothetical and likely non-existent problem, and to support our viewpoint, while you don't have to support yours. Otherwise, we could simply answer with opinions, which is not the SE model. Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:57
  • @anongoodnurse I had written replies here to you and the other person. Why have they been deleted? Commented May 28, 2015 at 13:34

8 Answers 8


There are many, many fictional tales that your child will encounter while growing up. Some are in books, some are in other media (TV, movies), some are cultural (e.g. the Tooth Fairy), some will be games that children and their friends make up. Even observing the world on her own can lead to the impression that there's something magical going on (sunrise! rain! wind! flowers!)... This is the origin of myths and fairy tales, after all: people trying to explain how the world worked, and doing the best they could with the available evidence.

The risk of having a child believe wholeheartedly in magic shouldn't be dealt with by trying to avoid it. For one thing, that's practically impossible: there are so many books and myths and mysterious things in the world. But more importantly, imagination is important for child development (see many links at end of Answer). Reading stories is a way to encourage imagination.

You can bring that concept back when you're discussing a fairy tale you've just read. That was a wonderful story! The author has good imagination. Fairies sprinkling water on flowers is a fun way to explain dewdrops! If fairies were real, what other things would they do?

If you later say, "Magic isn't real," and your child says, "But my book said it is!" — you've already got a groundwork explanation of what imagination and pretend are all about, and you can bring that information back together. The wording and content can of course be tailored depending on how old a child is (once in school, I'd bring in concepts like fiction vs. non-fiction books).

"That book was a pretend story. It's like when we play together like we're cooking, using toy food and toy dishes: we aren't actually eating, we just pretend we're eating. It would be so much fun if magic was real and we could magically get the house to clean itself and magically fly around like fairies [or whatever], but it's just a story. Should we use our imagination and come up with other stories about magic like that wonderful book did?"

  • The Importance of Pretend Play (Scholastic) explores what aspects of child development are influenced

  • Creating Worlds: The Importance of Imagination (on Lego's website, "from a series of articles by author and educator Elizabeth Slade") describes imitative imagination and creative imagination.

  • The Importance of Imagination

    In the world of child development you may hear us use phrases like “critical thinking skills” and “creative problem-solving abilities” when referring to our goals for your child’s cognitive development. What we are really talking about is… imagination. The way to create human beings with imagination is to provide them with opportunities to develop it for themselves when they are very young

  • "The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development" (blog post on Psychology Today), includes its own list of references.

    An important benefit of early pretend play may be its enhancement of the child’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and, ultimately, creativity ... early imaginative play was associated with increased creative performance years later (Russ, 2004; Russ & Fiorelli, 2010). Root-Bernstein’s research with clearly creative individuals such as Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant awardees, indicated that early childhood games about make-believe worlds were more frequent in such individuals than in control participants in their fields (Root-Bernstein, 2012).


Taking a different approach to your question: Your premise is based on the assumption that a child will believe everything written in a book is true. (Also that children live in a dream world only if they are lied to.)

Where did you get this first idea? Did you believe this at one time? Do you know anyone who believed it at one time? The answer is probably no. That concept doesn't come for a while.

All children fantasize regardless of whether you read them fairy tales or not. Do you think a small child playing with a truck isn't imagining anything about the truck? That a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a man is only a cookie with a funny shape? That a mud pie is a pie of wet dirt? Or if a child laughs if you pretend a bananna is a cell phone, that they don't understand why that's funny?

Children only that believe what's written is true long after they know about truth and lies, and in the context that a book is presented consistently as truth by significant persons, e.g. when parents teach that the Bible is true, or a textbook of history, or science, or math is true.

"But the book says it is true"

Someone would have to introduce her to this idea (at this age, that would be you), and why would you do that with a book of fairy tales?

The truth is young children lie, even though no parent I know of teaches their child to lie, and they know the difference. In some experiments, 30% of 2 year olds will lie to cover a transgression. How can that be, if no one ever introduced the concept of duplicity? Children lie as a matter of norm, to protect themselves or someone they love.

There have been studies of children and the ability to discern and tell the truth from many standpoints and for many reasons, probably the most critical being the ability of a child to give testimony regarding a crime they have witnessed. Children as young as 3 years of age can identify a lie, and can testify in a court of law.

Three experiments (Ns = 123, 103, 177) were conducted to address the assumptions underlying the court competence examination that (1) children who understand lying and its moral implications are less likely to lie and (2) discussing the conceptual issues concerning lying and having children promising to tell the truth promotes truth-telling. Both measures of lying and understanding of truth- and lie-telling were obtained from children between 3 and 7 years of age. Most children demonstrated appropriate conceptual knowledge of lying and truth-telling and the obligation to tell the truth, but many of the same children lied to conceal their own transgression.

The benefits of fairy tales have been discussed by others. Your concept of children believing everything they are told is faulty.

Children's Early Understanding of Mind: Origins and Development, C Lewis and P Mitchell
Children's conceptual knowledge of lying and its relation to their actual behaviors: implications for court competence examinations
From little white lies to filthy liars: the evolution of honesty and deception in young children.
Little Liars: Development of Verbal Deception in Children

  • Did you believe this at one time? Do you know anyone who believed it at one time? Actually me and my cousins didn't have access to any of these kind of fairy tales in our childhood. All of us here came to know about them when we were grown up enough. So, I don't know whether children do believe in these stories or not. Commented May 28, 2015 at 4:36
  • On top of anon's timeline, there are studies indicating the development of lying is an essential developmental milestone for children
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 11:17

Your question seems to about whether children can tell the difference between truth and fiction.

Children can tell the difference between truth and fiction.

Children reading any story will maybe day dream about being the main character or a friend of the main character, but they will not make the mistake of thinking that the main character actually exists or that the events are true or that themes of the setting (eg magic) are real.

This knowledge of real and made up is gained early - children as young as four can talk about stories and about pretend or real.

It's not a problem. You appear to be needlessly worrying about something that doesn't happen.


You might think about writing a story with your child. Make it something fun and whimsical, involving household pets or people that you know. My daughter loves writing stories about our pets driving taxis; our German Shepherd owns the taxi service and she only has cats to drive the taxis, which causes a lot of problems. My husband is the dispatcher, and his parents' Pomeranians Rocky and Little Bear are the taxi mechanics.

I think this has given quite a boost to her imagination, and at the same time she is quite aware that cats can't actually drive taxis. If you were to do something like that with your son, his assertion that "if it is in a book it must be true" can lead into a discussion like "well, in our book our dog Buster built a rocket ship and took us to the moon. Did that really happen? Yes it did, but only in our imagination. Some things in books only happen in your imagination, but it is fun to write down what happens in your imagination so you can share it with other people, like we shared our book with Grandma..."

My daughter treasures the pages that we wrote together so much that she sleeps with them under her pillow.

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    Writing a story may be a challenge for a toddler, but it is an excellent activity for an older (4 plus?) child.
    – Acire
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:29
  • @Erica - I used to "take dictation" for my kids, and turn their stories into books. They can make up stories by this time. How good the stories are is debatable, though. ;) Commented May 28, 2015 at 13:36

It's really important that your child learns there is such a thing as fiction. Just because something is in a book (or on TV) doesn't mean it is true. Starting with things that are clearly and obviously not true (flying people, talking animals, etc) makes this an easy point to make.

In the future, when your child sees an ad for something (online, on TV, before the movie, whatever) you will want that critical thinking to be in force. You will want the position to be, while consuming media, that it might not actually be true. This is one of the vital things you can teach someone.

When your child is a teen and that decade's equivalent of 50 Shades of Grey arrives, don't you want to be sure that "not all books accurately describe reality" is firmly in place in your child's mind?

  • Yes, that's why I want to know how to tell the reality behind these fairy tales to the child so that she doesn't start believing that all that is written there is true. Commented May 27, 2015 at 11:28
  • Just add a little commentary when you read it. He flew in the air! That's impossible! What a funny made-up-story this is!
    – Chrys
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 14:21
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    @TheIndependentAquarius- stories would be boring (and likely counterproductive /confusing) if you had to contradict it at every turn: "Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter (Not really, honey; rabbits don't name themselves!). "Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit (Not really, honey; rabbits don't get married, and they don't talk, and we don't even know if they really love their bunnies!), "You may go down the lane... but don't go into Mr. MacGregor's garden (Not really, honey; rabbits don't know what a garden is!)... Etc. Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:52

Just make sure you tell them it's not true, it's just a story. If you want, make it a game and let the kid try figure out what is possible and what isn't. Instead of shielding them from fiction, you have the perfect opportunity to teach them to make the difference between real and not real.

Talk about the story the next day. Ask him what is his favorite part, ask him if he think magic exists or not. If he really likes the story, he will want to talk about it.

Fiction is very good at increasing imagination. Some argue that a child with a lot of imagination is better at coping with the hardship of being a little kid.


Young children live in a magical world, in which the boundaries between reality and fiction are always very vague. Everything they do themselves is a game in a made up world, and at first they don't even see the point in distinguishing between real and not real.

They can't tell the difference between video with live actors and cartoons. When they play that their doll is their baby that day, then it is. A guy can come in, show the kids Santa Claus' clothes, explain that he's going to put them on, go behind a screen, and then Santa Claus is suddenly there!!

When my daughter was three or four or so, we thought she finally understood that some life size "puppets" were people in suits (think Donald Duck in Disneyland). So when she got home, she tried to find out where her teddy bear opened, because she wanted to see the real little bear that was inside...

It's a long, hard learning process. "Daddy, dragons aren't real, are they?" "No, sorry." "And dinosaurs?" "Well, they existed a really long time ago, but not anymore..." "So frogs aren't real either?"

Reading them stories, magical or not, won't change that significantly. They learn, eventually. Enjoy the stories for what they are.

  • Citing a reference to support your position would make this a much better answer. This is not an unusual request on SE sites, with which you're familiar. Thanks! Commented May 28, 2015 at 14:39

Wow. This is a strange question. Keeping the magic alive is pretty hard to do. Here is the best explanation I've seen of why you shouldn't discourage belief in little things like magic and fairies:


    "So we can believe the big ones?"


    "They're not the same at all!"


    "Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"


-Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

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