Child has horrible night terrors/nightmares after over nights with father - Mothering Forums
Blended and Step Family Parenting > Child has horrible night terrors/nightmares after over nights with father
breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 07:20 PM 09-25-2011

My DD is 2 and has been spending the night only once every other week with her dad for about a year, now, and not too long after this started, behavioral issues began and, now, ridiculous amounts of either nightmares or night terrors have begun within the last 6 months.


Dd has really well-developed expressive and even more-so receptive language skills for her age.  The dreams are happening about 11-12 days out of every 14, which to me, the counselor, and the pediatrician, is rather excessive.  She's stated things, while wide awake...before bed, upon waking up, and after the dreams the following in the following order:


When it began and her language was early, it was pointing to the window, saying, "Hurts!"

It then graduated to, "The man's gonna get me, Momma."

Next, it was, "Daddy hurt me."

Lately, for awhile it was, "Daddy's out there.  Gonna get me."


All of it centers around her window, whether it's open or closed and whether the blinds/curtains are open or closed.  She gets absolutely hysterical and backs into/cowers in a corner or under her easel, or behind her door.  She will not let me touch her and won't take ANYthing that would normally comfort her.  It honestly makes me feel powerless.  She has no signs of physical abuse, but her father is more of an emotional/psychological abuser.


The family counselor we go to (my dd and I), has viewed communication between the father and me, as well as other things he's written to the general public, and has heard my side of things.  Telling the father would be pointless and make things more stressful for both my dd and myself.  Based on what the counselor has seen with the child on videos of the episodes and her behavior, which is normal in my presence, along with these following concerns that her father has repeatedly expressed that are shared by no one else but him and his mother with whom he resides: dd gets a blank look, does not follow his movements at times, and has speech issues, the counselor is beginning to come to the conclusion that Dd is experiencing Reactive Attachment Disorder symptoms, which are rarely seen in my presence, aside from the nightly issues.  She says dd's reactions to these dreams (i/e not letting me touch her, etc.) are her way of coping with things and trying to learn how to console herself on her own because she has found that Momma can't always console her and she is apparently not getting enough of such behaviors at her father's.  She has also concluded that Dd's reaction to her father's picture (excitement, then yelling at it and hitting the screen, to then cowering, whimpering, and backing away) is her reenactment of her father's behavior (which makes 100% sense since this is the way he acts privately and now increasingly publicly).


Any suggestions on what to do?  Has anyone had to go through something similar?  The counselor said keep doing what I'm doing with her, especially where I'm sitting arms-length away from her during these episodes at night so that when she's ready I'm right there for her and in the mean time, my presence is there to somewhat comfort her.  We already also have a nightly ritual where she has to touch the curtains and yell RAWR at the window to scare away whatever she is afraid of.  It's just that we're all exhausted.  1-2 nights of decent sleep a week just isn't enough.

VocalMinority's Avatar VocalMinority 07:44 PM 09-25-2011

I'd be slow to assume there's abuse and much quicker to assume a 2-year-old is too young for regular overnights away from Mommy (no matter how long she's been doing it).  


It might actually be worse, doing it once every other week, than it would be to do it more frequently.  I'm NOT saying increase the frequency, if she's already having nightmares!!  I'm just saying a kid who, from earliest memory, spent every other night with Daddy might feel comfortable and secure in both homes.  But if a kid goes 2 weeks without seeing Daddy (and that seems like a HECK of a long time, when you've been alive less than 156 weeks!)...then, every time she sees him, she has to go all night without Mommy...she might feel completely traumatized, even if Daddy isn't doing anything abusive.  By the same token, if he sees so little of her - and every time he sees her, he has to deal with her separation anxiety from Mommy - he's not getting the best chance to bond with her and learn how to parent.  A third complication is that your negativity toward your ex is likely (and understandably) increasing, as you watch your daughter's behavior.  And at her age, she is very bonded to and sensitive to you.  Even if you try not to, you communicate your feelings and attitudes about him, to her.  So the longer these nightmares go on, the more tense you are going to be about her visiting him; and your tension will make her feel more anxious about being with him, away from you.  It's unavoidable.


If at all possible, I'd pursue getting his visitation changed so he sees her more frequently, but for much shorter periods.  I know that's not entirely up to you, but I bet you could find some professionals (pediatrician, counselor) to confirm in court that this would be in her best interest and developmentally appropriate.

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 08:28 PM 09-25-2011

The visitation schedule, from 4 months to 10 months was this way...the schedule, that is.  He missed more than half, due to outbursts and many other issues, where he decided he didn't want to have visitation that day.  Before the overnights started, it was twice a week day visits.  Now the schedule is one day visit one week and the over night visit the next.  He has another child, as well, who was visiting on the same day (she's twice Dd's age), but that county will not let him have over night visits with that child for some reason.


I expressed my concerns about the over nights with her being so young, but they were ordered for her at 10 months of age, anyway, without him showing up to the hearing.  I was told to back off with my concerns of the overnights with her so young by my lawyer and the GAL because "the judge is too unpredictable," they said.  So, I did, regardless of my reservations.  The first things the pediatrician's office asked, in fact, when we were talking about it for the second time, was, "Why is she having overnights so young?"  All I could answer was that it is court-ordered.


The last overnight before this past week, he had to pick her up from me (we do an exchange program for no-contact, normally, but it was a holiday).  And, once again, I had to leave her like a deer in the headlights because, although I remained cheerful and positive, he continued to discuss family court matters and other random things, even as I walked away, right in front of her as he set her aside on the back seat so he could deal with HIS agenda, instead of taking his daughter to enjoy the visitation.  While he IS visiting with her and her sibling, he is constantly ranting on a social network, and in the past when we were there and her sibling was her age, phoning agencies, screaming and yelling about how his child is being abused and how stupid they are and how he'll have their jobs, what a B**** the mom is (and actually our child came home two weeks in a row calling me this), repeatedly telling her sibling at the time how much she wanted to come live with him, etc.  You name it, he says it and doesn't care to whom he says what, even when called upon with it.  Then it's everyone else's fault but his own and what he says is the truth...his children are in urgent danger and being horribly maltreated and he's going to take them away.

VocalMinority's Avatar VocalMinority 09:27 PM 09-25-2011

I'm so sorry.  What a mess.  It is absolutely outlandish that a judge would order overnights for a 10-month-old...and with a father who didn't even show up in court to fight for them?  That's infuriating.  And this comes from a woman who is very fathers'-rights!


Perhaps you could investigate what your rights are, as far as changing judges?  Here (Indiana), each side is entitled to one change of judge, just for the asking (i.e, you don't have to give any explanations or prove the judge did anything wrong).

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 10:17 PM 09-25-2011

Honestly...and sorry for the emotional post...but I don't blame the judge as much as the way the system is set up.  Unless it goes to trial (and I was afraid to let it, at that point because I only had hearsay for "evidence"), the hearings are only 15 blasted minutes long.  Which, in my opinion, isn't nearly long enough to decide how to affect the life of a child.  The judges hear the same crap all day long, all week long, etc.  It's far too hard to distinguish much from that length of time.  In our last hearing (emergency petition submitted by me) the 15 minutes was long enough for him to at least somewhat show his true colors, since he represented himself.  I am currently waiting on him to get off his arse and submit a petition to modify the agreement because he insists I should let him violate the court order as well as allow him far more visitation than is in the current agreement.  It's been a month and a half, however, and he still hasn't that I know of.  I'm just tired and frustrated and worried about the child who seems to not be adjusting well to this schedule, but at this point HE is the one who needs to file because I don't have the grounds to file for a change.  There has been no significant change in the child's life, other than her sleeping pattern and stress level, which is very difficult to prove with a very young child.  For information's sake, the big part of what he wants changed that's the result of the last hearing is that the child cannot be taken to a certain county in the state.  So, maturely enough, when he had her that over night when I last told him to submit the papers to change it, he put her in a WWE mask, took a photo with the caption, "Maybe I can sneak into X County."  Not to mention she did NOT look happy to have the mask on.

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 10:22 PM 09-25-2011

Oh and with his concerns for her speech and such...dd is incredibly intelligent...she is already speaking in compound sentences, at 2, so it has sent off alarms all along that she apparently has speech problems while there. I had asked her, at one point, as well, if she could please talk while there and she outright refused. 

Smithie's Avatar Smithie 04:18 PM 09-26-2011


I've read some of your previous posts about this problem.


In your shoes, I'd be contacting CPS at this point. Your DD has become verbal enough to use words that describe abuse. You may not think that physical abuse is going on, but at this point, you are justified (and I think, following your moral obligation) in reporting what your daughter is doing and saying. 

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 05:02 PM 09-26-2011

I have discussed the issues with a crisis counselor and they, along with the pediatrician and her counselor all say the same thing:  She's just too young to be able to truly relay what is going on, exactly, and it could be very different from what it seems.  I also spoke with a friend of mine who used to work for DSS who said that the problem is that the only "proof" there is in these cases (and many, many far worse ones), is the child, him/herself, and that young children are too unpredictable in their testimonies and with their emotions that nothing can be proven.  I have all the really stupid written things he has said online, text messages, and recordings of phone calls, along with what the counselor is saying, at this point and I have contacted the GAL concerning it all.  The only thing the written things do, however, is just display a pattern of anger issues he still has, despite having "completed" anger management (still not sure how he did this in a month or less) and the parenting class his lawyer told him to take to make him look good.  He didn't learn a thing from it, however.  I remember everything they said in it (I took it just purely by my own choice) and he is doing everything they say NOT to do because it will, in the least, be emotionally negative for the children.  However, he hates the phrase that "it only hurts the child(ren)."  HE is the only one who is in anguish, according to him.

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 05:04 PM 09-26-2011

And for a child with speech issues and supposed brain 2, tonight, she tells me, "morrow is Tuesday, Momma."  Most kids her age can't make that kind of deduction, yet.  I honestly just wish he would see her for the intelligent little girl that she is and the bright personality she has and enjoy the visitation.

Smithie's Avatar Smithie 05:24 AM 09-27-2011

My two-year-old can't do that yet, for sure. orngtongue.gif Your daughter is lucky to have one parent, at least, who can see her little light shine! 


If you're communicating with all those experts, and the message you are consistently getting is that your DD isn't regarded as reliable yet, then I guess that's what you have to live with right now. Talking to the GAL on an ongoing basis is certainly something to keep up - and she needs to see that picture with the written abduction threat. (WTF was he thinking?) 

breezyleigh's Avatar breezyleigh 07:50 AM 09-29-2011

Thanks, Smithie :)  And the GAL received a copy of that the next day.  I looked back at dates and, honestly, it's been nearly two months since he called with the desire to change the visitation.  Still no papers from him.  After awhile, from what I've read, it makes it seem less and less important to him and exposes his true agenda.  If it were SO important to him to change it to a place where our child cannot go, he should have filed already.  I'm just tired of his games.  The nightmares are getting better, but ironically enough, the first one she had had in four days where she actually woke up was after the day visit this week.  If nothing else, it's displaying a pattern that isn't healthy for her.  She needs her sleep to grow and be healthy.  We go back to the family counselor and my counselor next week, which is after the over night visit.  Perhaps the counselor visits are helping a little bit, at least.  We are claiming back a day or two.  She's still obsessed with it during waking hours, though.  I feel sorry for the poor little girl, regardless of what is causing it.

JanaesMommy's Avatar JanaesMommy 03:06 PM 03-29-2012

Im having the same issues, my daughter (15 months) sees her dad once a week for 3 hours supervised. But when he leaves she has no problem telling him bye bye and shutting the door on him. At night she has night mares, when I go to her she grabs me and holds me close and says dada and looks around. When I tell her he isn't here she calms down and falls back to sleep. I don't know what to do. He isn't a very welcoming person, but I know he is a good father. I spoke with my sister who is a foster mother and she says its tramatizing for her because she doesn't know him... It breaks my heart but he is the one who chooses not to come around more. I finally told him he needs to step it up as a father or leave her alone until she can understand what is going on.