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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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My 8 and a half year old daughter was studying famous

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My 8 and a half year old daughter was studying famous americans in October in her 2nd grade classroom. They read a book on Harriet Tubman and talked a little bit about slavery and there was a picture of some slaves being whipped in the book. The picture was not gorry at all but really bothered her. We had some issues of going to sleep from this experience with her. Since a baby she has always been our best sleeper in her own bed, room and all until this. It seemed to go away with the winter months and holidays, we had no issues. But in early February something must have triggered the image and thoughts again, she would not sleep in her bed so we dealt with it by letting her sleep with her sisters or us. She then talked of these nightmares about slaves she was having. After a month I decided to be more aggressive and get her back to her bed, that she would be fine, these things do not happen anymore, as I did this she became very nervous, upset, anxious and would melt down until I gave in to letting her sleep with someone for her to feel safe. I have encouraged her to read books, talk with her about it, but as soon as she knows she will have to lay down she becomes upset with knowing she will have another nightmare about "black people coming to our house and whipping us and selling our family seperately" She makes remarks that these bad thoughts haunt her and will not leave her alone. She has also become very clingy to me because she is afraid if I am out of her sight I may not come back so she goes with me everywhere grocery store, my haircuts etc. She was usually not like this before. Our whole family is having a hard time with this. At school a few weeks she had a best friend move away and she knew this was happening. I do not think school is an issue. I have talked with her teacher about this and she hasn't noticed a mood change at school.
OUr school is a private school and there is no counselor on staff to help her out. I did get a referrral for a counselor in a clinic but the appt is not until May 12.
What can I do to help her until then?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 6 years ago.

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.

It sounds like the story she read about slavery tapped into a fear of separation. Most children go through fears and it is completely normal. The fact that she is able to go to school without you is very positive. And her fears can be treated relatively easily. It is good you have an appointment for her already. Therapy will help resolve the problem. In the meanwhile, there are things you can do to help her.

One, make sure you are consistent with telling her to sleep in her own bed. I know it is hard when your child is afraid because all you want to do is comfort her. But the only way she is going to get over the fear is to consistently see that nothing happens when she sleeps on her own. Repeated affirmation that you will be there in the morning and that nothing happens at night to her will help her overcome her fear much quicker.

Two, be out of her sight for increasing periods of time (leave her with a sitter or other trusted adult). She needs to know that just because you are out of sight, that does not mean she will lose you. Start by leaving her for 1 minute, then 5 then increase it slowly until she can be alone for as long as she needs to. Each time, reassure her you will be back, but don't make a big deal out of it. Don't let her cling to you or carry on. Look her in the eyes and tell her you are coming back. Then leave. She will see that you do come back and her fear will lessen.

Three, praise her when she is able to deal with her fear without becoming too upset. Tell her you are proud of her. Take everyone out for ice cream (include everyone because you do not want to single her out for special attention and cause sibling rivalry). Tell her she is brave to face her fears. This will help reinforce her facing her fears and coping with them.

Here are some books that deal with childhood fears:

Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child's Fears, Worries, and Phobias by Tamar Ellsas Chansky

Anxiety-Free Kids: An Interactive Guide for Parents and Children by Bonnie Zucker

The Anxiety Cure for Kids: A Guide for Parents by Elizabeth DuPont Spencer, Robert L. DuPont and Caroline M. DuPont

You can find these on or your local library may have them for you.

I hope this has helped you,

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