Parents and teachers of young children have had it up to here with Elsa and her clan. The movie Frozen came out more than a year ago, yet many, many children are still entirely captivated by the story and the music. I know a little girl who still asks if she can wear her Elsa princess dress to school, even after being told no at least twenty-five times.
In my work with families, parents often ask if their children’s fascination with mass media characters like Princess Elsa, SpongeBob or Pokemon is harmful. While I do think parents need to monitor their children’s screen time, there’s nothing wrong with the way children develop an intense interest in a particular character or story. It’s perfectly normal for children as young as two years old to enjoy thinking about, talking about, and pretending to be their favorite characters. Parents’ attention spans are often shorter than children’s when it comes to these mass media fascinations; we are ready to move on, tired of what seems like the same old scenario, while children seem to find endless pleasure in recreating the same play scenes over and over again.
Here’s my advice to parents who are sick and tired of Disney’s Frozen — Look for ways to bridge your child’s interest to other topics. For example, use your child’s fascination with Frozen as an opportunity to add some new construction and engineering activities into play time. For example, take an image of Elsa’s ice castle and study it with your child, asking questions that draw your child’s attention to the structural and architectural features. What kind of roof does this castle have? What is the shape of the doorway? How is the staircase inside Elsa’s castle the same as the stairs in your own house? How is it different? Invite your child to build her own castle out of blocks, Legos, cardboard, or even ice cubes. An older child could be invited to draw a sketch of the castle or a floor plan on graph paper. Some children might even enjoy making a map of Arendelle, locating a spot for the ice castle, and tracing the path Anna took to find Elsa. These construction and drawing activities may lead to other ideas and interests beyond Frozen.
When your child is pretending to be Anna, Elsa, Kristoff or Olaf, do they always play the same way or do they add their own details and ideas? Most children will find ways to make the story their own, adding dialogue or plot twists that show how they can mix their own creativity and innovation into the story. Parents can also ask questions or make gentle suggestions to spark new play ideas. What if Elsa was a pirate? What if Hans was an alien? What if Olaf was made of ice cream instead of snow? Write down your child’s ideas on paper and use those dictated notes to help your child create and illustrate her own storybook.
Frozen, at its heart, is a fairy tale, and there are many other wonderful folk and fairy tales from around the world for your child to discover. Visit the children’s section in your local library and check out the 398’s in the Dewey decimal system. You may be surprised by the variety of storybooks shelved there, books that you might miss if you only visit the picture book section. For a child who loves Frozen, I would recommend stories like Rumpelstiltskin (in which a young queen progresses from victim to victor) that feature strong, clever characters. One of my favorites is Grimm’s The Six Swans, which features a strong and brave girl who saves her six brothers from a wicked and feathery spell. The fact that these folk and fairy tales have been told and retold by different writers and illustrators over the years demonstrates to children that there are many ways to tell a story beyond what we find in Disney movies.
Between the building and the playing and the reading, somewhere along the way your child will eventually become captivated by a new story and a new cast of characters. Be patient. Winter won’t last forever. Soon the thaw will begin.