Jack and his mother then live happily ever after with their riches that Jack stole from the giant. - Jack and the Beanstalk

Putting the jewels into their clothing, the children set off for home. A swan ferries them across an expanse of water and at home they find only their father; his wife died from unknown causes. Their father had spent all his days lamenting the loss of his children and is delighted to see them safe and sound. With the witch's wealth that they found, they all live happily ever after. - Hansel and Gretel

If I were poor enough not to be able to feed my children, I would have definitely broken into someone's house by now. I don't see anything wrong in stealing if you don't have a job for some reason, and just can't earn money right now and your child is about to die because of hunger.

So, I wish to know:

  • At what age were you introduced to these kind of books? What was the book's impact on you at that time? How did your parents deal with these books?

  • How do you deal with these books w.r.t your children? Do you explain them when it is okay to steal or lie and when it is not? What's your children's response?

  • At what age such books should be introduced to the child?

  • Think of it as punishment. What do you think about the stories where the witch is burned? Children love these tales and are happy because justice has been served.
    – martin
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 17:43
  • Extra bonus reading: Aladdin; 1001 Nights in general, Robin Hood
    – user3143
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 17:34
  • 2
    I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the newly edited question here. The first point is basically a survey, which I don't consider on topic at StackExchange sites (even this one); similarly the second one. The third is okay, I suppose. All told though it's a pretty different question from the original, which was asking a more-on-topic version of the second point solely.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 16:44
  • Basically, "How do you talk about X to kids" is fine to me, but "How did you talk to your kids about X" is not - it's not a question with a single good answer, or anything approximating it. While providing background for how we talked about X with our kids is a good way to answer how you should/can approach talking to kids about X in general, it shouldn't be the question.
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 16:46
  • @Joe Have you read this on the right side of the question box parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/ask : Opinions should be backed up either with a reference, ***or experiences that happened to you personally.*** Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 5:10

8 Answers 8


At what age were you introduced to these kind of books? What was the book's impact on you at that time? How did your parents deal with these books?

I remember reading such fantasy books when I was about 8 years old. By then I clearly learnt stealing and lying is not acceptable in the real world. I never continued any discussion with my parents. But this is how I deal, when my 6 year old asks when I read fantasy books, are all the step mothers are wicked? I realised that she is too young to learn about step mothers and I jump to other fairy tales where the thief's get punished by Heroes, eg: Aladdin and how Gene helps the good people.

How do you deal with these books w.r.t your children? Do you explain them when it is okay to steal or lie and when it is not? What's your children's response?

I would recommend to choose the books that are appropriate and lets them improve their imagination. That is all the fantasy books are meant for. Right from very young age we teach our kids that stealing and lying is not a right thing do. so when they come across such stories I am sure they will take it as a fantasy story and forget about it.

At what age such books should be introduced to the child?

There are many fantasy story books so choose the one that is age appropriate and you can help with positive answers. Arabian Night story books convey positive message where villians get punished by heros. Books like the one you read, I would say leave them for the child to decide until they mature enough that stealing is an offence and is not acceptable in the real world.


You don't have to avoid them. I read (and listened to) many of these fairy stories when I was young and the child's mind does not take in the same details than an adult one might.

In fact, I'm now in my late 20s and this is the first time I've realised that these books treat stealing like this.

By the time children really have the attention span to listen to these stories, they should already understand that it's just a story and that stealing is wrong. Things that are wrong can be exciting and they make for good story-telling. They'll have to learn eventually because most stories focus on things that aren't normally acceptable; that's why they are interesting to read.

Might as well start with fairy-tales, which are clearly fictional (and kids will be told this before you start) instead of skipping the fairy tales and letting them start with something that looks realistic, which might actually make them think the behaviour is acceptable.


Talk about it.

Even at two or three, these kind of moral discussions can be very educational (and entertaining). My three year old very much understands the idea that stealing is wrong; he'd probably point out that it was wrong in the first story. (I think in Hansel and Gretel, it's less wrong, since the witch was trying to eat them... but who knows.)

Talk about why their greed caused the problems in the first place (in both stories above). Talk about whether it's okay to take things from someone, even a bad person. This is relevant in their current life - is it okay to take a toy from another child, even a mean child? - and as they grow up.

Having these conversations - even a simple "Do you think that's okay?" - also helps to reinforce the idea of thinking about what you read, so you raise your child to think critically about what she reads.


When I was a child my parents read Grimm's fairy tales to me frequently. I remember having favorites, mostly the princessy ones, and asked for them a lot (though I don't remember choosing to re-read them myself once I could read). Simultaneously they were teaching me not to lie, to steal, to cheat, etc. Like others have said, I never noticed any conflict. It never occurred to me my parents were in any way condoning or endorsing fairy-tale behavior. It never came up in conversation about how not to behave, either. The fairy tales just were, phenomena unto themselves, divorced from everyday reality.

It wasn't until I was in my twenties and started to read Puss in Boots to a friend's child that the two parts of my understanding collided. I have a nurturing temperament: in all my interactions with her kids I tried to give them information about the world and how to behave in it, and here I was reading a story where the protagonist tricks and kills a perfectly innocent giant so he can steal his castle and lands. I was appalled, so much that I couldn't even finish the story.

Skip forward to when I had my own child, and this unexamined distaste for children's fairy tales was still with me. I did not consciously choose to leave them out of her education, but night by night, when I read her stories, or picked books from the library, I somehow never chose traditional fairy tales.

And this turned out to be A Bad Thing. Because literature is full of references to other literature, and stories are told in opposition to previous ones. Even outside of literature, the fairy tale archetypes are well-known and powerful and useful for discussing human behavior. Some are culture-specific, some resonate across different cultures, but my daughter is missing almost all of them. She has lost points more than once on tests because she was never exposed to this underlying layer of archetype. (E.g., "Why is chapter 5 of The Bridge to Terabithia called 'The Giant Killers'?" She thought it had something to do with really big killers.)

If I could do it again, I would read these things to her starting when she was one or two. I would use a different tone from when I read her other books, always start with the words "Once upon a time," and just present them neutrally as information. They do have their own morality, but it's one where giants and witches are always bad, and it's okay cheat and steal from or even kill them for no reason. As Wiccans and NBA stars would agree, it's clearly not acceptable in our world to discriminate against whole classes of people... but I would save discussions about this for other material. I would make very sure I found this other material, however -- especially to counter the Cinderella story -- and make sure we had those discussions.

Similarly, with regard to the atrocious punishments found in fairy tales -- another reason I didn't want to read them to her -- I think it would have been okay to tell her about the red-hot shoes (e.g.) starting when she was too young to grasp what this meant. Perhaps this would have made her tougher later on with regard to her feelings for characters in stories, and not so upset when bad things happened to them. (See my question How can I help my ten-year-old not be traumatized by the deaths of characters in books? from some time ago.)


In my opinion there are far more bad parts in these fairy tales than just stealing: evil stepmothers, witches who eat children, people dying horrific deaths (mostly for punishments)... If such stories were published today, it is likely that they would not be recommended for children. Should you read them to your children anyway? Absolutely. (And I say this as one of those who never were very fond of fairy tales as a child.)

By the age in which children are able to judge what's happening in those stories, they should be old enough to understand that those are stories, that they come from a time long ago, and that they are set in the time back then. There are no giants and witches, and people are not put into kegs into which nails have been driven from the outside and rolled down hills for punishment anymore.

Plus, there are times and places where we would consider stealing fine. (Stealing weapons from an enemy is usually considered a brave deed–and rarely ever even called "stealing"–and if a well-known thieve is stolen from, we'd snicker about it.) Scientific studies have shown that practically everyone lies several times a day without even thinking about it. And even when we do think about it, there is what we call "white lies", and they are important. (Just tell the next mother who proudly holds up her newborn how her child really looks with all those wrinkles on a bald, red head.)

If you tell your child to not to ever to lie or steal, then you put it into a moral dilemma, because it hears you preaching an absolute moral standard that you do not live up to. And this is fine, because your child will constantly run into those while living with other people. That's just the way our society is knit. The moral standards that rule our societies are far more complex than "do this, don't do that" and they are hard to learn. But all children will have to learn these standards in order to be able to live in their society, and the only way to learn about these rules is to be exposed to them, will all their dilemmas and discrepancies. Help your child to navigate this complex subject, but do not try to prevent it from being exposed to it.


Traditional stories, such as those from the Brothers Grimm, contain a bunch of weird stuff.

I was probably introduced at a very young age to these stories. I know that I had a "Mother's Goose" book of nursery rhymes. Traditional nursery rhymes can be horrific! Babies falling down wells or people having their heads chopped off.

You mention the fascinating Panchatantra. There are different forms of these stories. Some of them are aimed at very young children, and they use simplified forms of the stories and plenty of pictures. Others are aimed at older children and use less pictures and more words.

"Western" traditional fairy stories are similar. You can find simple versions in picture books for very young children, and you can find them in films (for example, Disney films often use them) and you can find longer stories for older children.

You may want to read these stories before you read them to your children. That way when the heroes of the story steal all the jewels you can have a discussion with your children about what they think is or is not acceptable behaviour.

I agree with you that often these stories have some themes that pose difficulties for parents. I, for example, think a lot of the stories have problems with sexist stereo-typing. So, when I read them with my child I will say things like "I wonder if there's another story where the princess rescues the prince?", and then we'll make up our own story.

(Heavily edited this answer)

  • 1
    That is the problem. I don't know how to discuss that such that a child can understand when to steal and when not to. Commented May 28, 2015 at 13:32
  • 1
    @TheIndependantAquarious what would you say when you read "The Gold Giving Snake"? pitt.edu/~dash/panchatantra.html#goldgiving
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 16:24
  • 1
    @theindependantaquarius - hi! Sorry if I seem rude! I don't understand your questions, so I'll let other people try to answer them.
    – DanBeale
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 20:18

First, it should be noted that in most of the cases you mention there is an assumption that the items taken from the villain were probably originally stolen by the same villain. Even Robin Hood is stealing back unjust taxes to the peasants from which they were levied.

Second, moral issues are rarely starkly black or white. Take it as an opportunity to discuss the gray areas. Is it OK to steal goods that were already stolen in order to avoid starvation? If you steal enough to live a life of luxury - have you overdone it? Should you instead have tried to determine the owner and return properties beyond that which kept you alive? In the emperor's new clothes, everyone was told to lie to the king when the truth was needed for the king to see how his vanity had cost him. Meanwhile, he was also the victim of theives that played to his weakness - is there something there for your kids to understand to be aware of their weakness and to try to be aware of scammers? And was those who lied per instruction doing wrong? Or are white lies that make a person feel good about themselves the right thing to do sometimes? "Of course you look great honey! Haven't gained a pound or aged a day in the 40 years we've been together!"

Take these as teaching moments. Teach your kids to see beyond just the words that were read to them, and to discuss the moral dilemas that they are sure to face. As to what age? If they ask, they are old enough for an age appropriate answer. And if you ask a leading question, tackle the questions that come up. Kids are pretty good at showing the level of complexity that they have derived from what you have exposed them to.


At what age were you introduced to these kind of books? What was the book's impact on you at that time? How did your parents deal with these books?

There is a valid point in your question that very, very few of us - if any - can answer, and that is what the world is like to a two or three year old, because life-long long-term memory doesn't kick in until later (although occasionally a few vivid memories from toddlerhood can be recollected.) The best we can do is to read the work of people who work with such children and decide for ourselves if we trust them.

Like you, my parent didn't read me such books. They told me stories that they were told, though. I remember I was very young when my mother recounted stories about a magic dog, Passe-Partout (I spoke only French as a young child), who could go through anything, which would help his master get out of all kinds of fixes. But I never, ever confused that with reality. I knew it was only a story.

How do you deal with these books w.r.t your children? Do you explain them when it is okay to steal or lie and when it is not? What's your children's response?

I don't recall mixing morality with fairy tales too much. Morality was an ongoing, daily lesson through example and discussion. I didn't steal from or lie to my children (not even a Santa myth.) I had a lot of discussions about television shows, video games, movies, and advertisements. But I can't remember turning fairy tales into morality plays. Aesop's fables were very good for that, and we read those, too.

At what age such books should be introduced to the child?

I started reading nursery rhymes to my first child at about 4 or 5 months of age. Consequently, his first word was "Moo". I'm very sure fairy tales were before the age of two. Sesame street - full of fantasy - was well before that. The others, probably the same, but I remember less well.

I have a videotape of my first child and me watching Sesame Street, and a funny segment came on, "I Love Being a Pig". I would sing that after: "I love how mud feels, I love how mud sounds, I love mud on the ground... I love, love, love being a pig!" I don't think he ever actually thought I was once a pig, or imagined that I could change into one when he wasn't around.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .