The dark is always associated with the paranormal. We all are afraid of the dark. Even a known room assumes a dark and sinister character when shrouded in complete darkness. And then there are ‘things’ that dwell in the dark that we are afraid of. It is not just children but adults alike that have the fear of the dark. This fear is as metaphysical as it gets. The dark represents the unknown. Children are as susceptible to the unknown as adults. While they may be too young to understand that fear is the landing step of courage that can help tackle the unknown hurdle, too much of fear can be crippling. As parents, we can take a few steps to diminish the surmounting fear of the dark.
Let me simplify this. Most parents (and I have seen a lot of them, including my own) usually use the fear of the dark to get children to obey them. In addition, introduce a resident ghost/monster that snarls, salivates and may have a fang or two, and you have set the child’s curiosity on fire. Children start to form their own mental picture of these creatures. While imagination is fine but believing in that imagination could be detrimental for the young minds.
A special mention here, of the Bengalee community and their love for the paranormal. They have an entire classification of ghosts and ghouls based on demography and psychograph! Pygmy ghosts, married ghosts, arboreal ghosts to even Brahmin ghosts! They all have different parts to play in parenting stories but the end action remains the same – to strike fear in the hearts of young ones. One can scarily presume that an average Bengali child would be scared of twilight, the pond, the bamboo groves, the trees, heritage houses, married women, mythological demons on calendar art and anything that is dimly lit or has no light whatsoever!
While I was growing up, I was ‘introduced’ to a ghost by my grandparents that stayed in the dark alleys of erstwhile Calcutta but had a name that didn’t sound too sinister – JooJoo. So this JooJoo’s primary job was to scare children that didn’t do as they were told. Touché! The JooJoo’s urban popularity is so high that it has a dedicated song specially written by a Bangla rock band. So JooJoo was my invisible tormentor. I would vaguely describe it as a black, mangy tadpole-ish looking thing with bulbous eyes. Oh yes, it had fangs. Growl!
When I had my son, I decided to turn things around a little and so, I nicknamed him “JooJoo”. He should be the one scaring the living daylights out of anybody – humans or otherwise. It was my way of extracting cultural revenge! Now no JooJoo can scare my JooJoo. Funnily Advait has authorized me to call him that. Nobody else in the family can use that name.
Now, my man-cub was completely fearless till 3 years of age. He would crawl or totter into any dark space, be it a room or under the bed without any trepidation. I used to secretly nurse this huge pride that my son is not afraid of the dark. Thereafter, I noticed that he wanted me to accompany him to dark rooms. My withered ego aside, I realize that it is a natural reaction. Fear is as intrinsic as anger. Or happiness.
So, here are a few things that I do or don’t do with my JooJoo:
1. No monster stories. Not just yet.
2. Teach him how to train his eyes in the dark (call me crazy or an extra from the cast of 300)!
3. Learn to be still, when the lights go off. Get used to the dark and then move around.
4. Appreciate shapes. Might as well use the lack of lights to train imagination.
5. Dark is beautiful. This will hopefully help my son later in life. 😉
6. And no, we do not sing songs in the dark. Trying not to adopt the national pastime of India.
We fear what we know not. Let us not germinate unnecessary seedlings of fear in these beautiful minds.