One of the most influential child psychologists of the 20th century, Bruno Bettelheim, defended the importance of playing in early childhood; children, he said, need to play to establish their identity and resolve conflicts. Similarly, Bettelheim argued classic fairy tales promote children´s psychological stability. His theory is based on the concept that these stories “speak” to children at each stage of their development in a unique way.

In his award-winning treatise, The Uses of Enchantment (1976), he explains how fairy tales help children’s inner growth. According to Bettelheim, their internal processes are externalized and represented by the characters in fairy tales, allowing children to understand them. In the first part of the book, he develops this theory, while in the second Bettelheim applies psychoanalysis to explain the meaning of well-known fairy tales. Some critics have accused him of distorting these stories to fit his theory and challenged his ideas.