Story of intruder, nighttime screams need to be checked

Parent Q&A

September 12, 1999|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. For two weeks our 2-year-old daughter has been telling me that one night a stranger came into her bedroom. Without prompting, she described the intruder as wearing a black outfit and white sneakers. She said she woke up during the night and he was sitting in a chair in her room, watching her.

When questioned, she said he did not touch her in any way, speak with her or touch anything in her room. I asked why she didn't call for help and she said she did, but we didn't hear. She said the stranger left by way of her door.

Now she refuses to sleep in her room, preferring to share our son's bed (he is a little older). She brings the incident up at all hours of the day and nothing seems to trigger it. She also told my husband and an aunt about the "stranger."

A few nights ago, she began screaming, "Get off me!" I rushed to her. She was hysterical. We don't know if it's a nightmare or something real. My husband says she is looking for attention and dismisses her fears.

I am fearful because I was molested by a relative when I was child. We have assured our daughter that she won't be left alone with this person. Our insurance won't pay for a child psychologist and I don't want to be seen as a bad mother. What do you advise?

A. I would surely seek advice from a clinic or a center that specializes in child abuse. Ask at the nearest teaching or university hospital.

Although your daughter may have just spoken from her imagination, and she hit on a sensitive cord in you (of course you are sensitive after your own experience), the center should be able to help you sort it out so you can help her deal with her fears. They sound too real.

She is too young for the bad dreams and fears that surface normally at 4 and 5 years of age. She may well have had a bad experience.

Q. My sister changes her baby's diapers on her kitchen table. She doesn't want to go upstairs to her baby's bedroom every time she changes him.

First, she lays down a plastic pad. I've seen her wipe down the area with a household spray, but I don't know if she does that all the time. I feel it's unsanitary to use the kitchen table as a changing table. She disagrees. Can you help us settle the issue?

A. It sounds as if she is aware of sanitation and is taking precautions. Since you say it is her kitchen, I don't think it's an issue that you need to get into a battle with her about.

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