Celebrating Villains: What Can They Teach Young Audiences?
Published: October 22, 2018
We all have at least one favorite villain that has stuck with us since childhood, be it Ursula from The Little Mermaid, The Wicked Witch of the West or any number of storybook and movie baddies. But why is the villain role needed in kids’ entertainment?
In preparation for Halloween, WildBrain have raided their library of over 600 favorite kids’ brands to answer this very question. Here’s what we’ve found.
1. They’re essential to kids’ moral and emotional development
Watching or reading a classic story together provides parents with the perfect opportunity to talk to their children about good vs bad behaviors. It is in these story arcs that model examples of kindness, selflessness and cooperation are juxtaposed against a villain’s greed, treachery and lack of empathy. This provides parents with the perfect opportunity to talk about a villain’s actions – and their consequences – with their kids.
2. Villains can be especially motivating for reluctant readers
If you’re struggling to get your kids to enjoy reading, maybe a story with a compelling villain will do the trick. As much as we hate to admit it, we’re all fascinated by the resident villain in a story.
Often, they’re more richly-drawn than the hero, with a complex backstory and flair for the dramatic. These traits make for a humorous and engaging tale that will almost certainly have your little ones’ full attention.
3. They help kids develop good coping skills
By portraying the darkest, most evil sides of life and humanity, villains help introduce kids to concepts like unfairness and injustice in a safe manner. This can also open the way for conversations between children and parents about how to handle emotions like frustration, loss, anger and fear.
Seeing a villain and other characters experience these emotions can help youngsters begin to make sense of them. So, next time they get frustrated with a younger sibling, they will be better equipped to understand what they’re feeling.
4. They help with teaching empathy
Some story villains are evil incarnate. Others still are complex characters with a backstory and psychological motivations, which can sometimes gain an audience’s understanding.
Kids are naturally curious and inclined towards asking Big Questions about others, so this can be a good way to start teaching them empathy. When they ask you about a villain’s motivation and reasoning, it’s important to explain that doing a bad thing doesn’t automatically make someone a bad person, and that people need to be treated with compassion.
Just be sure to pick the right villain to illustrate this point. We recommend Malice from Kiddyzuzaa – she’s definitely up to no good, but in the end, she’s not really evil – she’s just a little rebel.
5. They’re the best at illustrating good vs bad choices
Some of the qualities that make a great villain — strength, determination and ambition — are the same that go into creating an excellent hero. The only difference lies in how each character chooses to use them.
This can be a great opportunity to talk to your kids about good vs bad choices and how that affects the person they will become. A good approach may be to explain that they, unlike the villain, can choose to use their “powers” to be kind and selfless to others.
6. Siding with the villain doesn’t have to be a bad thing
Finally, some kids may even root for the baddies to win, but that, in itself, is not cause for alarm. The villain may have some traits that appeal to them, such as unlimited power.
It’s important to remember that small kids can sometimes feel incredibly powerless – their schedules are made by parents and educators and their language skills may not be developed enough for them to properly express their needs.
Seeing or reading about a villain who doesn’t follow any rules allows kids to experience that kind of power themselves, albeit only in their imaginations.
If that’s the case with your little ones, it may help to let them have more choice in their everyday lives — like dressing themselves. That way, they can begin to develop a sense of autonomy and confidence in their own abilities.
Posted by Sev Marcel