Help centre warns against scaring children witless with Mikulas

Little Devil

The night of December 5th, the eve of "Mikulas" or St Nicolas' Day, is a night that young children await with a mixture of dread and anticipation. St Nicolas usually brings a bagful of sweets and possibly a small cuddly toy, but before that there is the ordeal of facing the devil and owning up to your sins of the past year. Children past the age of eight or nine join in the fun and games, dressing up as St. Nicolas or the angel and devil which accompany him, but for the smaller kids who believe it's all for real, the experience can be a very traumatic one. The Child Help Centre, which has dealt with cases of children developing a stutter from fright, urged parents this week to keep the annual scare-mongering under control. Zora Duskova is head of the Child Help Centre. By Daniela Lazarova.

Little Devil
"When the tradition is handled in a sensible way, with a sensitive approach to the child and that child has a healthy amount of self confidence then it is just fine to go ahead and enjoy it. If children feel that their parents are there to protect them then they can go ahead and explore their own fear and courage and come close to something mysterious. As a rule children love that. However some parents, who are unable to discipline a child of four or five, think it is a great idea to scare the child stiff and then just frighten them with the words 'if you don't eat the devil will come and get you' or 'if you misbehave I'll give you to the Devil'. That's totally unacceptable but it still happens all the time."

Psychologists say there's no need to give up a fine tradition, and the annual visit from St. Nicolas is in fact a bonus - on condition that you respect certain ground rules with very small children.

"The grown ups involved should be sensitive to the child's response - enter the scene slowly, with limited sound effects and then put only as much pressure on the child as it can cope with. If a child is screaming with fear, stuttering and trying to escape -you've obviously gone too far and the experience can give your child nightmares and problems for months to come. Try to arrange a meeting with the devil outdoors, not in the home where the child needs to feel secure. Also never side with the devil openly by enumerating the child's misdemeanours - your child needs to know you are there to protect it. And finally, make sure you agree on some ground rules of behaviour with your devil in advance - slinging your child over his shoulder to carry off to hell - is definitely over the top."

That was Zora Duskova of the Child Help Centre giving parents some advice on how to avoid problems with the Devil.