October 2013

Evening Romp by RLC 2009

Evening Romp by RLC 2009

We all know that occasional nightmares are part of childhood but what can we do when the nightmares happen every night?

A frustrated mother recently posted her plea on a parenting website. Her son has recurring nightmares of malevolent extraterrestrials; the dreams happen every night. The family has stopped watching alien movies and she has explained to her son that those stories aren’t real, but the dreams persist. I don’t remember where I came across this posting, but as someone who has suffered from nightmares well into adulthood I’d like to take a moment to address the subject.

To work with childhood nightmares we need to look at three things: the way a child’s brain works, what nightmares are, and how to promote a good night’s rest (which is something even adults can embrace).

Did you know that your child is operating in a different wave pattern than you are? It’s true! Children under 12 spend most of their waking time in Theta state, whereas adults primarily stay in Beta. Why are children in Theta? This is their learning time. Children are soaking up information in order to learn how to survive. Their minds don’t know the difference between story and fact; it’s all real and everything is possible. This is important to note because it tells us two things. One, those violent movies are being registered in the subconscious as necessary information. Two, even though the child can logically agree that the stories are not real, their subconscious is working with the information as though the events truly happened.

I remember watching the movie Psycho when I was still pretty young; that infamous shower scene really got to me! It was quite a while, a few years in fact, before I could take a shower without thinking about someone whipping open the shower curtain. Sometime I even left the curtain partway open so I could keep an eye on the room. What happened was that my mind created a neural pathway associating being in the shower with danger. It takes time to re-route or override those pathways. They are created so that we “don’t keep stepping in the same hole” so to speak.

So, what does all of this have to do with nightmares? At night, a child’s mind is trying to sort and balance all the information recorded and absorbed that day. All of those stimuli have triggered specific emotional centers as well, and as the mind does its sorting these emotional centers are stimulated and strange dreams can result. A movie or story may have originally traumatized this child, creating a fear response “trigger.” Other stressful input such as news reports, crime dramas, or even family arguments can stimulate this same trigger. Even though the movies have stopped, the fear response is still active.

The way to begin reducing the nightmares is to not only avoid violent or stressful situations but also incorporate safe, relaxing experiences. Adults can benefit from this as well.

Allow for some wind-down time before going to bed, at least an hour but preferably two. Use this time to:

  • Watch nature shows
  • Take a warm bath
  • Listen to relaxing music—nature sounds, lullabies, Native American flute, piano solos
  • Read heart warming or funny stories
  • Cuddle

Have your discussions about the day, such as what happened at school, earlier in the evening, not during wind-down time. This time is for letting go of the day and nurturing a light mood and good feelings. Children sleep better when they feel safe, loved, and have happy pictures in their heads. Parents may find themselves sleeping better too!


Additional steps for working through recurring nightmares:

Offer your child the gift of self empowerment. Give them tools to help them through the fear and teach them to assert themselves in scary situations:

Give the child a special flashlight to take to bed or one of those “Dream Lites” animals that casts stars on the ceiling.

Create a special “Happy Dreams” song to sing together each night or an “It’s Only a Bad Dream” song for the child to sing to himself after waking from a nightmare.

During the daytime, sit quietly and let your child describe the dreams in detail. Ask questions about how the child feels during different parts of the dream and how the dream might play out differently for a better outcome. Encourage the child to re-write the script of the dream and roll-play this new scenario with him, featuring the child as the new hero of the story.

Have the child write a story or draw pictures of rising up against the monster or making the monster actually turn out to be a mouse in a costume (or some other funny thing).

One of the greatest lessons a child can learn is the difference between acting in a dangerous situation and reacting to fear.

Do you or your child suffer from nightmares? Do you have any stories to tell or tips to share?

I first met Mohana while working with Women On Writing, At the time, she had just published her novel, Love Comes Later. Mohana is now celebrating the release of her new novel, An Unlikely Goddess, which examines how religion and culture define women. Please enjoy the video trailer and an excerpt from An Unlikely Goddess. (Available at Amazon)


An Unlikely Goddess An Unlikely Goddess—Synopsis (from Amazon)

Winner of the SheWrites New Novelist competition 2011

Sita is the firstborn, but since she is a female child, her birth makes life difficult for her mother who is expected to produce a son. From the start, Sita finds herself in a culture hostile to her, but her irrepressible personality won’t be subdued. Born in India, she immigrants as a toddler to the U.S. with her parents after the birth of her much anticipated younger brother.

Sita shifts between the vastly different worlds of her WASP dominated school and her father’s insular traditional home. Her journey takes us beneath tales of successful middle class Indians who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s.

The gap between positive stereotypes of South Asian immigrants and the reality of Sita’s family, who are struggling to stay above the poverty line is a relatively new theme for Indian literature in English.

Sita’s struggles to be American and yet herself, take us deeper into understanding the dilemmas of first generation children, and how religion and culture define women.



An Unlikely Goddess–Excerpt

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Winner of the SheWrites New Novelist Award, 2011

The Hindu goddess, Sita, is said to have been born from the Earth.

King Janaka discovers the beautiful infant and in her beauty, believes in her divinity. He raises her as his own daughter……


Unlike her namesake, Sita’s first mistake was being born.

A girl, her mother thought, eyes dark in abject terror. What if he leaves me? She swallowed, increasing the dryness in her post-delivery mouth, the stiches across her abdomen itching. No water. Only ice chips until her bowels passed the tests. Mythili pressed back against the pillows. She closed her eyes, pushing her fingers into the sockets until the darkness was punctuated by bone-white stars. She wished she could as easily tune out the gurgles of the baby in the bassinet beside her.

Yet, even premature and unwanted, Sita was obliviously happy to enter the world, beaming her infant smile at anyone or anything she saw: the nurse, her aunt, her mother’s back, the noxiously-pink cement walls of the Madras hospital in which she found herself. Several pounds underweight, she was otherwise fine—a petite, brown-skinned baby with tufts of black hair crowning a smooth scalp. How could she be expected to know that from her first breath she was, and always would be, a living reminder of her mother’s failure to produce a first-born male heir?

Though swaddled and placed in the bassinet immediately after delivery, her eyes were alive with motion. She blinked up at the faces of passersby, but they were admittedly few, so instead, she followed the blinking lights, the creeping shadows and the occasional appearance of a nurse. Everything about the world kept her busy with delight until sleep washed over her little body

“Look at that smile,” the young nurse said, cradling Sita against her flat bosom.

“Aamam,” Priya, the childless aunt, agreed, rubbing a forefinger across the baby’s somewhat wrinkly face.

Instead of replying, Mythili, Sita’s mother, pulled a see-through blue sheet up to her chin and turned her face away.

About the Author

Mo_new_profile_photoMohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. In addition to being featured in several magazines, Mohana has published seven e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace; and a novel set in Qatar which explores if this current generation believes that Love Comes Later.

Mohana was a winner of the SheWrites We Love New Novelists competition. She writes because words can help us understand ourselves and others. Read more about her on her website, www.mohanalakshmi.com.

Have you ever just let yourself go? I’m talking about “going to pot” or getting lazy. If so, you probably know the ramifications can be painful…something I was reminded of just last month.

My journey “south” happened slowly…over years. Once a yoga-working vegan, as my life changed (new friends, new home, different jobs) healthy habits gave way until I no longer remembered my former self. And my diet? Ugh—I was living off of peanut butter, too much bread, too much pasta, and only an occasional healthy meal. To top it off, I wasn’t taking any vitamins. This is when “The Bug from Hades” came to call!

Some kind of virus, a flu bug I believe, swept through early in September. Everyone I know who caught the darn thing were sick for two weeks—except for me, I was sick for  28 days and am just now beginning to feel somewhat normal. I believe the bug hit me harder because I had no nutritional reserves. Lesson learned; keep that rainbow on your plate!

Do you remember the “rainbow on your plate” slogan for healthy eating? There really is no substitute for a varied diet rich in fruits and veggies. You can go to the Chiropractor regularly, exercise, take herbs to strengthen your system….nothing strengthens your body like a healthy diet.

So, what is a healthy diet? There’s a bit of a debate about that and it can get confusing. My answer is:

  • It begins with a variety of veggies prepared in different ways. Different cooking methods release different nutrients so read up on your favorites and try preparing them in a new way.
  • Don’t always eat the same thing, there’s more to life than salad. Choose something new each week (or each month) and look up ways to prepare it.
  • Fruits have a lot to offer and are not just for dessert. Try cherry compote over grilled chicken!
  • Speaking of meat, keep it to a minimum.
  • You need some fats in your diet to absorb certain nutrients. Olive Oil works in most situations but pay attention to which oils you use for different cooking methods. For instance, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) does not work well with high heat. Some of the nut oils are a tasty alternative though!
  • And, unless you are growing your own food, keep taking those nutritional supplements. It’s a sad fact that most commercially available produce lacks the nutritional potency of years gone by.

Speaking of nutritional properties, here are some links you might enjoy.

Power Your Diet shares nutritional information on veggies, herbs, oils, and more. Did you know that bay leaf has antiseptic properties or that rosemary is rich in B-Complex?  http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/vegetable-nutrition.html

Need a quick reference chart for your most common produce items? The FDA offers free PDFshttp://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/labelingnutrition/ucm063367.htm

This is the FDA homepage where they list recalls and other public announcements. http://www.fda.gov/Food/default.htm