Scaring the children
Being exposed to spooky stories has made my daughter anxious, says Karin Schimke. Now what?
I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m really not. I’m a brave, brave mouse. I like the dark. Until recently my children didn’t seem to mind the dark either.

Then *cue scary music* came *a crash of cymbals* ... GHOST STORIES.

Once, a little house far, far away from the troubles of childhood, lived a mother and her two cheerful children. They told one another stories, but somehow, in her ignorance, her reliance on her relentless rationality to keep any gnawing anxieties about unnamed threats in the dark at bay, the mother forgot that ghost stories existed.

When, at last, her children were let out into the world of camps and night-time marshmallow braaiing parties, they were exposed, for the first time to scary tales.

Scared of the dark

My daughter is 8 and all of a sudden, when it gets dark, she doesn’t want to go to the loo alone, even though there are lights on in that part of the house. If she needs to fetch something in the kitchen and we’re all in the bedrooms, she needs someone to walk with her.

I suddenly find I have hanger-on. I try to walk somewhere quickly to fetch something and she’s either in front of me, or behind me, or somehow both at the same time. She can’t decide whether I should go first and face the dark while she braves the monsters behind, or walk in front of me so that her back’s covered. There’s a lot of toe-crushing and crashing going on between me and her at the moment.

When I realised that she is suddenly edgy around the house I asked what was going on and only then did she start telling me the stories. The stories often don’t make any narrative sense, but one senses the malice of the unknown in them.

One involves a drip-drip-drip of a bathroom tap. So now it’s not just the dark she’s afraid of, but dripping taps. Which is great in a way, because I also don’t like dripping taps.

But it just seems as though everything’s more complicated right now. We’re all jumpy – some of us out of fear, and some of us because we’re constantly having to accompany her somewhere not far away, or hopping about switching on lights and turning taps tight.

It doesn’t help to say ‘don’t be silly’. I hate it when parents do that to kids. Scary is scary. It’s not about being silly. So instead we talk about the veracity of the stories, the likelihood of lurking menace in the cupboard, under the floorboards, or in the bathroom. I’ve taken to sitting on her bed and reading my own novel when it comes to lights out time. Lights out, by the way, meaning eyes closed, not the actual switching off of the bed lamp.

It’s been going on for weeks though, and it’s a bit tiresome. I feel caught between the instinctive desire to reassure her and the equally instinctive irritation when I keep tripping over her in odd places.

I can’t stop the stories at school, so I suppose I’m just going to have to ride this choppy wave – like all other ones – and wait for the fear to pass.

It will, won’t it?


What scares your kids – and you?

Read more by Karin Schimke

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