If you’re not familiar with the 1845 German children’s classic book of cautionary tales, Struwwelpeter, then please let me introduce you to a radical new form of parenting.
MAKE SURE YOUR CHILD’S ENTERTAINMENT IS APPROPRIATE:
Struwwelpeter, or Shock-headed Peter was written by a psychiatrist named Heinrich Hoffman for his three-year-old son when Hoffman decided that most of the books available for that age range were too sentimental. So Hoffman went about writing and illustrating the book as a Christmas gift for his son (note Hoffman’s thriftiness and DIY spirit—let it guide you in your choice of crafting appropriate entertainment that teaches your child a lesson).
LEAVE ROOM FOR HUMOR AND FANCY:
The subtitle of Struwwelpeter is “Merry Stories and Funny Pictures,” so the child reading the book knows immediately that it’s in for some fun!
MAKE SURE YOU’RE FIGHTING THE MOST IMPORTANT FIGHTS:
Each of the ten poems in Struwwelpeter contains rhyming couplets describing in detail the gruesome downfall of children who misbehave. Some teaching moments Hoffman includes address grooming, animal welfare, fire safety, gun safety, eating healthily, and white supremacy.
SHOW YOUR CHILD THAT ADULTS ARE THEIR ALLIES:
It’s important for children to know that they can rely on adults for help navigating the world and growing into fine, upstanding adults themselves if they don’t die first. Parents in Struwwelpeter model proper adult behavior. For example, they are absent in order to create an environment of self-reliance like in “Harriet and the Matches” and “The Story of Flying Robert”; or they save a drowning boy like in “Johnny Head-in-Air”; or they hire tailors to exact a swift and harsh vengeance against the sin of thumb-sucking like in “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.”
MAKE YOU ARE ALWAYS CLEAR TO YOUR CHILD WHEN YOU COMMUNICATE TO IT:
As an example, let us examine further “The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb.” If you would like to dissuade your child from sucking its thumb, say something along the lines of: “Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away./The great tall tailor always comes/To little boys who suck their thumbs . . . And cuts their thumbs clean off.” Remember to remind your child that thumbs don’t grow back.
In addition to being clear verbally, go ahead and provide an illustration in order to better accommodate visual learners. This will facilitate increased understanding from your three-year-old. So, to continue with the thumb-sucking lesson, add a picture like the one below:
MAKE SURE TO BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT CONSTITUTES BAD BEHAVIOR:
In “Cruel Frederick,” we learn in detail about a boy’s mistreatment of animals. In the tale, Frederick pulls the wings off flies, kills birds, throws a kitten down the stairs, and whips a dog and a woman. If your child does not have enough imagination and intelligence to grasp the complexities of poor behavior, offer up a picture of a dead kitten with a brick on its corpse.
USE COMMON TROPES OF CLASSIC CHILDREN’S LITERATURE:
It’s no secret that children love animals because they identify easily with beasts. Classic children’s literature is replete with talking animals; after all, what would Narnia be without a Jesus lion? Struwwelpeter is no different. For example, in “The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches,” two cats mewl in unison, begging young Harriet not to play with matches. She doesn’t listen and self-immolates, but no worry! The cats are fine!
In “The Story of the Man That Went out Shooting,” a hare hunts down a man who does not practice gun safety—every hunter should know that any weakness (such as sleepiness) will result in he himself becoming prey.
Even animals in lower orders are featured in Struwwelpeter. In “The Story of Johnny Head-in-Air,” after little Johnny has fallen and almost drowned because he’s always looking up in the air, some fish tease him for losing his school book in the water. The fish, after all, have a right to make fun of Johnny—I mean, what was the child doing, looking for sky-hooks or something?
ALWAYS SNEAK IN LESSONS ABOUT GOOD NUTRITION:
Learning to eat properly is important for all children, and it is a lesson they can take to the grave. In “the Story of Augustus, who would not have any Soup,” Augustus, for undefined reasons, decides one day to stop eating soup. In five days he has wasted away and died. This story might be most important for those three-year-olds who frequent pro-ana websites and try to circumnavigate Pinterest’s ban on “thinspiration” photos.
INCORPORATE LESSONS ABOUT RACIAL TOLERANCE:
Understanding how to interact and feel compassion towards those different from ourselves is a crucial lesson of childhood. Struwwelpeter teaches the lesson in “The Story of the Inky Boys” that children should not make fun of those persons who wear dark skin (“black-a-moors”) lest the children be dipped into ink by a giant and thus become themselves objects of ridicule. Never underestimate your child: it will immediately understand the message of white supremacy while giving lip-service to progressive ideology; three-year-olds understand the complex nature of antiquated racial attitudes implicitly and will be able to apply them to their social interactions immediately.