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Scary Tales that Our Mums Used to Tell Us: Opportunities for Teaching Our Little One Good Manners

by on 05/11/2015 3799

The recent Halloween triggered fond memories of the scary tales our mums used to tell us (somehow dads don’t try to scare us).


The scariest one was “If you clip your nails at night, a ghost will come after you!” Other threats were:


“If you point at the moon, your ear will get cut!”


“If you open an umbrella in the house, a snake will come in!”

The classic one was “If you swallow that seed (papaya, rambutan, etc), a tree will grow from your head!”


All these stories sound pretty illogical to us today, but when we were six or seven years old, they were like pronouncements of real doom.


Such tales were especially popular during mealtimes. But why the fear factor was focused on our future spouses is beyond comprehension:


“If you don’t finish your rice, you’ll get a pockmarked husband (or wife)!” was to make us finish the food on our plates.


“If you keep changing seats, you will have more than one husband (or wife)!” was to make us stay put in our seats.


“If you take so much soup, it will rain on your wedding day!” was our mums’ way of ensuring that everyone in the family had their fair share of her nutritious pot of soup. 


Looking back at those tales, we know their purpose was to keep us from harm and from misbehaving. Looking ahead, some of those stories can make wonderful starting points to teach our child good manners and behaviour. As parents, we naturally want our child to be polite and well-behaved, not only because it makes a good impression on others and reflects on our success in parenting, but also because learning these rules of social interaction will help our child in relating well to others and in leading a happy and successful life later on.


Besides the usual “please”, “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “sorry”, and “excuse me” that some preschools teach, a child has no understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and therefore, parents find it difficult to keep their child interested in learning such things. You may try hard to teach the rules, but they do not stick because your child cannot relate them to any real life examples.


This is where our mums’ scary tales can come in useful. First, remember to do away with the threatening tone our mums used. Tell those tales as humourous stories about ourselves when we were young. Every child loves to hear stories, especially stories about the time when daddy or mummy was little like them. We just need to use a bit of our imagination.


Take the scary tale about pointing at the moon, which was probably concocted to discourage us from bad manners such as pointing at people. One day when you see your little one pointing at someone, tell him/her that it is impolite, and follow with the story about the time you pointed at the moon and what granny said. Make a face and grimace at the thought of your ear being cut. Your child will love the play acting. 


Take the incident about you having more than your fair share of soup. When you see your child behaving selfishly, tell what granny said when you were young and make it into a lesson about thinking of others’ needs too. You can make it into a funny story about raining soup (carrot and potato soup?) on mummy and daddy’s wedding day. When learning is fun, the chances of your child remembering the lesson increases.


How about the scary tale about opening an umbrella in the house? When you see your child playing with stuff in a way that might injure his/her playmates (e.g. pointed things that may accidentally poke little eyes), bring out that story to teach that he/she must be careful not to hurt others during play time. Imitate the snake that you were threatened with by wriggling your arm and end with a tickling session to make your little one squirm with laughter.


Besides sharing much fun and laughter together, your child will learn valuable life skills when such training takes place. Story telling will also expand your child’s vocabulary. Children love to hear the same stories over and over again, so those tales can be used every time the occasion warrants another similar lesson to be taught. Preschoolers are at a stage where they are becoming more social, so it's never too early to start teaching them about manners and increasing their understanding of how he/she should relate to others.