How To Read A Scary Story To Kids


With Halloween right around the corner, it’s time to brush up on your scary storytelling skills. Do you have what it takes to terrify the tykes? Are you ready to personally never sleep again due to the fallout of good, ghoulish bedtime reading? If so, here are six ways to deliver a fearful fable that will keep the kids in your bed until they go off to college.

1. Witch It Up
This is no time to purr the children off to dreamland, so toss your lullaby voice to the side and get your cackle on. Practice saying “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!” until your inner Wicked Witch is fully developed. If channeling that is ineffective, you may be inspired by watching several episodes of The Real Housewives. Forgo gargling and tea the day of your reading. Your voice should sound not unlike a rock tumbler/Clint Eastwood for performance time.

2. Set The Mood
Turn off the table lamps and night lights. This is a flashlight-under-the-chin opportunity. And, depending on your age, this may be enough in and of itself to send the children into a complete panic. Who knew Wait Till Helen Comes was second only to jowls and eye bags in the fright department? For full horrifying effect, lay off the moisturizer until Thanksgiving.

3. Be On Edge
Nothing rattles listeners more than an off-kilter storyteller. Say things like “Did you just hear something?” “Did someone just touch my hair?” “Is it drafty in here, or is it just me?” Paranoia is contagious, but so are giggles. Keep a straight face if you can. If you must laugh, make it like Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant.

4. The Time Is Now, The Place Is Here
I don’t care if the fairy tale you’re telling happened in pre-war Belgium, all good ghost stories begin by making few distinctions between fiction and reality. Try beginning your storytime with an introduction like: “In a town much like this one, in a neighborhood identical to ours, in a little boy’s bedroom that had the same carpet as the one we’re sitting on…” This effective tactic tends to underscore the gravity of the situation and also reverse any previous potty-training efforts.

5. Pick Your Poison
Of course, the key to good scary storytelling is a good scary story. Some of the more popular frightening kids’ books include R.L. Stine’s eerie Goosebumps series, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, What Was I Scared Of?, by Dr. Seuss, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and The Witches by Roald Dahl. Older kids may even be brave enough for Something Wicked This Way Comes or The Dollhouse Murders. If none of these appeal to your listeners, most children are roundly horrified by etiquette books.

6. Don’t Try This At Home
As a camp counselor years ago, I successfully scared a dozen campers with a rendition of Where’s My Golden Arm?, sending us all scampering from our campsite and back to the security of our cabin. Back then, it was a feat of which I was quite proud, mostly because I got to sleep in a nice, warm bunk instead of on the cold, hard ground. But in retrospect, I’m lucky I wasn’t later sued for permanent psychological damage. So, beware the above tips. Now, as a mother of two, I know all it takes for six months of interrupted sleep is one inopportune viewing of an Exorcist trailer. And that’s just for me.

What are some of your favorite spooky kids’ books?

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