Mummy, Daddy, where are you going? Will you come back? “Grown-ups work. But Mummy and Daddy won’t ever be gone for long.”
Eeeeew… that’s a lizard on my wall! It’s going to fall on me! “That’s a little magical dragon guarding your castle. She gobbles up mosquitoes and flies and spiders.”
Episodes like these make up Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s recently released book There’s a Monster under My Bed… And Other Terrible Terrors (Penguin, Rs 399). The 56-page illustrated book, which has a child talking about her fears on one page, and an older voice tackling her concerns on the facing page, reels out some of the most generic fears faced by children in the age group of three to six years. The book, which, Gandhi says, should be read by parents and children together, aims to start a conversation about dealing with fears. Excerpts from an interview with Gandhi:
What made you write this book?
I have a granddaughter (aged four) who one day said, ‘Dadi, there’s a monster under my bed’. And I said, ‘That’s so lucky. Even I want one.’ Then her fear went away, because we dealt with it. But so many parents don’t deal with such fears. They think the child will just grow out of it, or they take the easy route and say, ‘Come, sleep with me’. The violence of the fear is not dealt with. The aim of the book is to make parents look at these problems and see if there can be solutions. Of course, there may be other ways to deal with the problems than how it’s mentioned in the book.
So are all the fears listed in the book the ones faced by Anasuyaa, your granddaughter?
Ever since that monster conversation, Anasuyaa hasn’t been scared of anything. In fact, she loves all kinds of animals and insects. I held a session with 200 children in that age group before writing the book, and most of them have a problem with what’s under their bed. This leads to problems like them not putting their feet down at night, not going to the bathroom, wetting their beds and so on. But if you can explain to them that under their bed is a beautiful place, the fear might vanish.
What are the most common fears? Are the fears gender-specific?
Most common fears include being afraid of the dark and lizards. At that age, I don’t think fears are gender-specific; I found the same set of fears in everyone. Perhaps, boys would be more scared of the barbers because the razor is closer to their heads. I haven’t met any girl who is scared of the barber, but boys are, including my own boy (Varun Gandhi).
The book combines your love for children with your love for animals in a section that mentions the dog “as a little friend in fur coat”.
While all other fears are actual fears, this one is always instilled by parents. Children are automatically friendly with animals but the parents always say, ‘Uske paas mat jaana, woh kaat lega’.
Is another children’s book coming?
My first book was a plant book titled Brahma’s Hair, which I wrote when I was contesting my first election, at the age of 28. I am now writing a book on gardens for children, but it will take another year. It will be for those aged eight years and above, for making them identify flowers, stories around them and the associated legends, if any. Children should know about flora — what you don’t know, you don’t protect.