The first image that may come to mind when someone mentions trolls is probably a small plastic figurine with a shock of bright hair, large eyes, and a bejeweled belly button.

These Danish troll dolls were the US’ biggest toy fad in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s (you may remember them fondly from your childhood).

Whatever your familiarity with trolls may be, you probably haven’t given them much thought to these cute ​but often inconsequential characters.

However, with a bit of strategy, imagination, and storytelling, trolls can do so much more for you as a parent than sit on a shelf and collect dust. Trolls have the power to teach our children valuable lessons about empathy, kindness, and perseverance. 

Put down your bedazzled belly button troll and take note from the Scandinavian parents who have been putting trolls to work for hundreds of years.

Background

 

 
Trolls in Scandinavian folklore traditionally live in mountains, forests, under bridges, and at the bottom of lakes. They are generally cranky creatures and even the most​ benevolent of​ trolls can turn against humans if mistreated. 
 
For example, during agrarian times farmers believed in tomte or nisse who live in houses and barns and act as their guardian. If treated well, meaning the house is well-kept, and the animals are provided for, tomte protects the family and animals from misfortune.
 
However, if the animals are treated poorly, tomte will play tricks on the family and may even harm or kill the animals. One can see how folklore was used to illustrate and reinforce concepts seen in everyday life and these stories were passed orally throughout the culture.
 
Today, trolls continue to play a major role in Scandinavian childhood, though the once fearsome and gruesome trolls have been replaced with more kid-friendly illustrations​.
 
While most parents aren’t looking to scare their children with the disgusting fictitious creatures from ancient folklore, the modern version of​ trolls can help teach kids lessons about courage, empathy, and kindness. 
 

Norway 

 
Perhaps you remember this story from your childhood, but the original text of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, a Norwegian story published by Jørgen Moe and Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, is quite gruesome. Many publishers have adapted the story for younger audiences by removing the more graphic bits from the fable. 
 
Young readers learn to identify that while the troll protecting the bridge is big and intimidating, he is outsmarted by the first two billy goats who convince him they are not threatening. Their wits save their lives, and they make their way across the bridge to greener pastures. 
 
The troll’s greed leads to his ultimate demise as the last billy goat, the largest of them all, overpowers him with a fierce butt off the bridge. 
 
The lesson: A smart group is stronger than a greedy, ignorant troll in a position of power.
 
You can visit the Billy Goats Gruff bridge and walk across yourself, tripp trapp, tripp trapp, in Bergen, Norway. At the top of the city, there is a forest of trolls for your children to find although, be warned, most of them are not cute and friendly. 
 

Take this game to your local playground bridge and play the part of scary, disgusting troll. It is fun hearing the shrieking laughter of your children as they try to run past you before you grab and eat them. Bringing the story to life on the playground will give this hundred-year-old fable new life.

 

more recent Norwegian tale written by ​Aleksander Nordaas,  Stroll Troll,  teaches​ children empathy. The Stroll Troll character may look shabby and tired, but that is because he has been strolling for a year and he is looking for a place to rest.

None of the woodland animals will give him food and shelter for the night until an unlikely group doesn’t judge him by his appearance and give him comfort. They are rewarded in a wonderful way, and the Stroll Troll is a friendly reminder of why we should be kind to people in need and offer our help when people asking even if we don’t have much to give.

The lesson: Selfless generosity, empathy, and kindness to those who look a bit shabby is an incredibly important part of being a decent human being.
 

Sweden

 

 

In the book, Ingrid och Bassiluskan by Katerina Janouch, the main character gets sick by a germ troll called Bassiluskan. In my children’s Swedish preschool this story is used to reinforce the importance of personal hygiene, and Bassilukan’s image is depicted on the mirror above the sink to remind the children to wash their hands. 

Another form of Bassiluskan is the “tooth troll” who will set up camp on 
unbrushed teeth and start to turn them yellow and stinky. These germ trolls are nasty and you don’t want them living in your mouth.
 
Trolls can be used as a fun visualization of actual germs and a way to bring the concept home to kids that personal hygiene is important to keep everyone healthy.
 
If you want to implement germ trolls in your bathroom as a motivator for proper teeth brushing and hand washing, there are a lot of free coloring pages depicting both scary and cute trolls available online.
 

Denmark

Danish children’s book duo, Peter Madsen & Sissel Bøe, have created a world of mystery for children to explore and look for trolls in their backyards.

Their book series, Trolleliv, available in multiple languages, takes readers on adventures with twins Paja and Pajko, two trolls who romp around the forest with their large family living in a troll cave under an old oak tree.

Through their adventures, children learn lessons about friendship, generosity, acceptance, and tolerance.

 
These books are available in English and their website, when viewed in Google Chrome, will automatically translate the text so that you and your children can learn about these fun troll characters together.
 
Finland
 
Finally, we have another friendly troll named Moomin, who is widely loved in all parts of Scandinavia. In a departure from the usual depiction of trolls, the Moomin characters do not look anything like the grotesque Scandinavian trolls of ancient folklore. They are drawn simply with a bulbous round body, big eyes, and long tail. 
 
Created by Finnish children’s book author and illustrator, Tove Jansson, Moomin is kind and brave, and his friends (all who have a penchant for adventure) inspire young readers to explore their surroundings and ask questions. 
 
The characters of Moominvalley teach children (and their parents) many life lessons.
 
Lessons that it is OK to be alone, that a good cry can be healing, to problem solve using unorthodox methods, and that one needs friends, not things, to have a home.
 
Introducing the Moomin characters and stories into your home is a fun new way to explore lessons of friendship, independence, and adventure with your children. 
 
 

Overall, trolls have changed over time from frightening creatures intended to scare children into obedience into helpful fictional friends who help your children work through life lessons in a fun, relatable manner. 

 
When it comes to parenting, you can leave a lot of it to the trolls.

Even more troll links:

 
Video: Trolltyg i tomteskogen (Trolls in the forest) (Swedish):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egedTrR-gD8
 
Free printable troll coloring pages: http://coloring-pages.info/trollscoloringpages
 
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