Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have a 7 year old child who wakes up in the night crying. She says that things are following her. Then she wakes up all the kids in the house. Sometimes I have to have the TV on for her, and other times I have to stay with her until she goes to sleep. I am worried that something’s wrong with her because it’s been going on for a long time.
She goes to her dad’s house every other weekend and she comes back not acting like herself. I ask her questions but she says that everything is good at her dad’s house. The dreams she is having scare me. I just want to know what I should do.
Dear Scared Mom,
Yes, nightmares bring real fright. And yes, it’s quite possible that they are brought on by her visitations.
Does she have an adult, who’s not an ex- of her dad, with whom she can confide? A school guidance counselor, church member, close neighbor? It is quite typical for a child to fear sharing “scary” thoughts with a parent if she is worried it will be upsetting to you. She may not enjoy her time with dad – there may be fewer things for her to do, she is separated from her regular playmates and other siblings, he may be less patient with her, and or she may miss you terribly while she’s there. If a caring adult besides her mother takes some time to help her express herself about what her every other weekend experience is like, some remedies will become apparent.
Depending on the cause of her anxiety, here are some possibilities:
- She can plan ahead with books, movies and other things to bring with her.
- Dad may be amenable to having her bring a friend along for some of the weekend time.
- Dad may need to learn more realistic behavior expectations and management techniques.
- You may need to work out letting her call you while she’s there – at any time, on your dime – in a way that Dad will accept.
She needs an ear and an advocate to help chase the nightmares away.
Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at www.drdebbiewood.com
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at firstname.lastname@example.org