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NIGHTMARES:

The Tea Party

No one came to the tea party. No one ever comes. I don't know why they won't come. I go to their parties and am nice to them. I play their games, eat their cookies, and drink their fruit punch, talk to them, laugh and have fun, and even take them presents sometimes. I always go to their parties. They won't come to mine but I can make them come.

Hi, Cindy! Oh, you brought me a present. The package is so pretty. Wonder what's in it. No, don't tell me. Yes. No, just put it on the table with the others. Wow! It's so much fun. See, Cathy is already here. Do you want some punch and cookies? Melissa and the others will be here in a little while. I haven't made them. Oh no, I mean they aren't here yet; but they'll be here in a little while. Let's all play a game; we'll have so much fun.

No, I can't talk to you now. I know you're in charge, but please, not now, they'll notice. They can't find out, please don't let them find out.

The spots are talking, they look a little like saucers, but they are fuzzy and I can sort of see through them. I know they've always been there. They are what's real and they make me talk and do things. Wonder if they control each other of if one of them is the hot spot and controls the rest? Hot spot, dot dot rot, rot spot. Wonder if spots rot? He's got the hot spot rot. That's funny. Wow! That's funny. Why can't I stop laughing. No, please God. That's awful. Maybe I'm a spot. Oh, please help. I don't want to be a spot. I'm not a spot. I'm me and that's that.

Oh no, I'm fine, Cindy. What's happening? She thinks I look strange. No, maybe I'm just a little dizzy, Cindy. Don't you get dizzy sometimes and feel funny? Maybe I should make her dizzy. What if she doesn't believe me?

You're hurting me. Please, my head. Please quit squeezing my head. But I don't want to be Mother. I want to be at the tea party and play with the other girls. It's your turn, Cathy. No, you're using your hands. You can only touch the balloon with your nose. It's not a silly game. Well, maybe, yes it's a silly game. Why doesn't she want to play? I'll make her play. That's okay, Cathy. No, please don't. It's not time to go yet. I haven't opened my presents yet and there are still some more cookies. Do you want some more punch? My Mommy made this special. See, it's yellow. Mommy says yellow is happy. Why don't they want to stay? Parties are fun. Why aren't you having fun.

Where's Daddy? Is the tree house really mine, all mine? Just for me and no one else can come up unless I want them to. It's fun walking with you, Daddy. You walk and talk and listen to the noises and sing and make funny sounds and I can almost walk faster than you. I know you're just pretending not to be able to walk very fast. But it's my secret. I like for you to tease and have fun and play and make dreams with me. What does it mean to make dreams, Daddy? Yes I want to go for a walk and make dreams. It's a lot of fun but what does it mean to make dreams, Daddy?

Don't go, please don't go. Let's see, you could all play with my toys in my room. They're all so clean and pretty and just where they are supposed to be. Why don't Cindy and Cathy like my toys? Where are the other girls? Oh, I forgot - I forgot to make them come. Cindy, no, please, you'll get it dirty. You don't play with them on the floor. Just one at a time, it needs to be back where it's supposed to be before you touch something else. If they come now it would seem funny. I hope Cindy and Cathy don't find out. Why did I let them come in here? Why are they playing with my toys? They have to go now. No, I don't want them to go. If they would just be nice, everything would be okay.

I hear you, Cindy, but I can't find you. Where are you? Where's Cathy? You're not supposed to leave yet. I'll make you - no, I mean - please. Please come back. I can hear you but where are you. My toys, everything's a mess. How did everything get on the floor? There's nothing on the shelves. It's torn. How did it get torn? Everything's broken. Please don't be angry, Mommy. Mommy will be mad and yell at me. Please don't yell at me, Mommy. I don't want to be Mommy. Please don't make me be Mommy. Everything's ruined, it's all a mess. I hear you, Cindy. Where are you? Where's Cathy? No, get away from me. You're a spot. You're a spot. You're not Cindy. Quit talking to me. No, they're not here. I didn't make them come. You're all spots. You're not real. I'm real. No, I'm a spot. No, I'm real. The spots are talking; go away. I am making you go away.

I'm screaming. What's happening? It feels like I'm screaming. The spots are all turning yellow and getting closer together. The sky is so black. Where are the stars and moon, and the sun, and angels, and Mommy. Where's Mommy? Make me a happy dream, Daddy. See, I can walk as fast as you. Isn't Mommy pretty? See, she's all yellow. Her shoes are yellow, yellow pants, yellow shirt, and it's all yellow around her. It's a fuzzy yellow and I can sort of see through it.

I think I can go back to sleep now, Daddy. Please don't you and Mommy die, too. Dreams can sure be scary.

What is your reaction to "The Tea Party?" Most people are unable to read this story without becoming uneasy. How do you deal with nightmares when you suddenly hear your child screaming in her sleep? Or when confronted by your terrified child who has just awakened from a nightmare?

There is little if any point in trying to get your child to relate the nightmare to you. If she is able to explain, the effect is only to continue her fear. The likelihood is, though, she is unable to explain to you what the nightmare was all about.

Next, help your child make the difficult transition from sleep to wakefulness. The quicker the transition, the better. Holding your child, trying to get her to talk to you about the dream, trying to be soothing and supportive only prolongs this. One reason for this quick transition is to create a clear demarcation between the nightmare and reality. This helps your child understand dreams are dreams and are quite unreal.

Typically, children start having nightmares around the age of three or four years. They likely have a bad dream occasionally until they are six or seven. (Most people still sometimes have bad dreams.) A few children never have to deal with nightmares, although most children do. Nightmares are not necessarily related to parents, parenting, living circumstances or life situations; they are just one of those things most children go through.

When your child has nightmares, they normally occur less frequently if you take a little time with your child when he is put to bed. First, be sure he takes half an hour or so to get ready for bed. If he has been active or seems excited or upset about something, it is helpful to spend twenty minutes or so with him. Talk with him a while, read a story, sing a song to him, sit on the side of the bed for a few minutes as he goes to sleep. This helps him relax and reduces the likelihood of a nightmare.

What if your child has a nightmare despite your efforts to be sure he is settled down before sleep? First, without being loud or angry, and in a calm but firm tone, insist your child get out of bed if he has not already done so. Say, "You are having a dream. Get up." If necessary, gently assist your child. Next, insist he go into the bathroom and attempt to use the toilet. While he is using the toilet or as soon as he has finished, wipe his face with a cold cloth; wiping his neck and arms if necessary to get him to wake up. In addition, stay with him and talk, get him to talk about other things, like school, until you are sure he is awake. Remember, the idea is to help him make the transition between sleep and being fully awake without becoming aggressive or angry. For many children, parents are able to get their young children to awaken without these steps. Instead, it is enough to have the child sit up and talk for a few minutes about most anything other than the bad dream. For example, you might ask a question about something that happened earlier or is going to happen the next day. The idea is to get your child to talk about most anything other than the nightmare. A drink of water also usually helps. Just quietly and patiently help your child get past the dream so he can go back to sleep without going back into the nightmare.

Your child may try to tell you about the nightmare. Should you be receptive to the discussion? No! Say to your child, "That sounds like it was really scary, but it was just a dream and I want you to wake up." Occasionally, you may have to repeat this two or three times in one night; the same steps should be followed each time. The next morning say to him, "You sure had a bad dream last night. It was really good you were able to go to the bathroom and wake up." Don't make too much out of this, because it may be embarrassing for your child if brothers and sisters or other adults know about his bad dream. It also helps to tell your child, "I used to have bad dreams like that when I was your age, but I finally got over them," if you actually recall having bad dreams.

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