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Finding Life Lessons Beyond the Movie Magic

​This information is included in our Guide to Imaginative Play. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Whether you're going to see a movie with your kids or ordering or renting one to watch at home, it's not hard to find a big-budget adaptation of a classic children's fairy tale. (See Frozen as a twist on Cinderella and Into the Woods as a modern-day collection of fables by the Brothers Grimm.)

These and other kid movies offer a dizzying array of special effects, dazzling animation and dance-in-your-seat songs that generate lots of pop culture buzz. Not to mention a flood of marketing and merchandising that is as predictable as Prince Charming saving his damsel in distress.

What sometimes don't get top billing in such productions, however, are the moral lessons at the heart of the stories.

Fables and folktales can reveal and promote positive traits like tolerance, selflessness, forgiveness, generosity, kindness and compassion. But these traits can easily get overshadowed by the imagery and technical wizardry that is used to bring a story and its characters.       

That's where parents can play their own role in making movie messages memorable, says Bridget Barnes, director of Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting® program. She encourages parents to use characters from popular movies (and television shows and storybooks) to teach children what values such as compassion and kindness look like.

"Movies like Cinderella can show kids how to be compassionate and forgiving," Barnes said. "Just by talking, parents can nurture and reinforce these basic positive values."

Barnes recommends that parents ask their children to describe what happened to the characters in a story and what lessons the characters learned. Then they can discuss with their children why it is important for them to adopt the same traits that helped the "good guys" overcome adversity or triumph over the "bad guys."

It's equally important that parents set an appropriate example for their children.

"Parents should look for opportunities where they can model the behaviors they want to see from their children, whether it involves doing a random act of kindness or trying to see a situation from another person's perspective," Barnes said.

The good news is you don't have to wait until the next big blockbuster hits theaters to start teaching your children positive values and good character. You can do it now and every day just by:

  • Setting an example of respect and kindness at home. If you and your spouse are polite and courteous to each other, your kids will be more likely to treat you, their siblings and others the same way.
  • Sharing emotions. Be open to your child's feelings and share your own feelings with him or her.
  • Praising your children when you catch them being trustworthy, acting kind or being forgiving.
  • Teaching your kids to be respectful of those in authority, including teachers and police officers.
  • Setting high expectations for how you want your child to treat others. This means praising and reinforcing children when they show tolerance and respect, and correcting them when they are unkind and uncaring. 

So the next time you're watching a movie with your child or enjoying a storybook together, remember to look beyond the magic and focus on the "teaching moment" messages.