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Lori Fettner & "Goodbye Bad Dreams": A Therapeutic Approach to Your Child's Nightmares

Lori Fittner joins us today on Picture Book THerapy Thursday to discuss her book "Goodbye Bad Dreams".

Lori always had her head in a book when she was little, and knew books would be a big part of her life. Lori's first career was in the managing editorial department of Simon & Schuster, where she got to correct mistakes in books before they ended up in children’s hands. She then became a teacher, and now writes full time while being a mom to two amazing kids. Lori loves humor and tris to put that into everything she does. She finds it so rewarding to teach kids while they think they are just having fun. Lori has published two adult books, Teaching to the Child and Welcome to Motherhood, and three picture books, No Place Like Earth, What Do You Do with a Doodleloo?, and Goodbye Bad Dreams. All keep up with her mantra of teaching through humor and silliness.

Goodbye Bad Dreams is the story of Hanna, a young girl who has bad dreams and a great imagination. She learns how to use her imagination to turn her bad dreams into good ones and you can too. If you are tired of waking up to cries of "I had a bad dream," this book can help you and your little ones finally get a good night's sleep.

Goodbye Bad Dreams uses a known therapeutic strategy to help children overcome bad dreams, and is a fun book for any child who likes art. A blank page is often scary for an adult to look at, but kids see blank pages as canvases waiting to be filled. In this book, kids are not only allowed to, but encouraged to draw on the pages. Children love getting to draw in this book, and then reading it again and again with their art telling the story.

What inspired you to write "Goodbye Bad Dreams'?

I still remember the first time my daughter woke up with a bad dream, when she was about 2. When she was about 5, she began having them pretty frequently. She would yell for myself or my husband, but when we sat with her, she wouldn’t tell us anything about the dream. I learned that kids with big imaginations often have bad dreams, and this was definitely true of my daughter! Before I even knew it was a strategy used by therapists, I decided to use Hannah’s imagination to help change the bad dreams into good ones. We started with some of the silly ones in the book, and this encouraged Hannah to then tell us about her real dreams. Before we knew it, she was helping herself get back to sleep instead of calling for us! I knew I had discovered something I wanted to share with others because we all need a good night’s sleep!

What was the process like from inspiration to publication?

I used some of Hannah’s real dreams in the book, and she helped me come up with the silly resolutions. When I had a finished product, I tested the book out with parents of children of different ages and genders. I got some great feedback and made a few changes. At first I planned to have the entire book illustrated, but then had the idea of an “I create art” book where kids draw the pictures that go with each dream description. For the cover art, I reached out to a local 14 year old artist, and I am amazed by her talent and what she came up with. Right before publication, I was honored to receive a glowing review from a certified trauma specialist, confirming my belief that this fun, silly book could actually help children.

Do you have a scene in the book that was your favorite to write or see illustrated?

I love the cover image which shows a huge dinosaur pulling on the child’s bed. Hannah says, “There was a dinosaur. He was so big and my whole bed was shaking!” How does Hannah turn this into something silly? At first we had the dinosaur wearing a pink tutu, and dancing is what was causing the bed to shake. I still laugh out loud at the text that became the final version. “What if the dinosaur had too much water before bed . . .” Mom started. “and my bed was shaking because he was doing a pee pee dance, “ Hannah finished, laughing. So now, if Hannah has that dream again, she just has to show the dinosaur where the bathroom is. When I read this out loud, I always get a laugh, something about a grown up saying the words “pee pee dance” gets the kids every time.

Tell us about some of the techniques used in the book.

The book begins with a bad dream (but not too scary). At the bottom of the page is a rhyming refrain to encourage children to imagine the bad dream away. We turn the page and see how the dream was changed into something silly. This pattern continues, with an example of a bad dream, the reminder to imagine it away, and the resolution. Each time, the child in the book gets more confidence to do this on her own. She first works the dream out with mom, and is slowly encouraged to solve the dream herself while mom goes from sitting on her bed to standing in the doorway, etc. By the end, mom thinks Hannah didn’t have a bad dream that night, and Hannah is so proud to get up in the morning and tell mom she did have a bad dream, but she imagined it away all by herself! This technique of addressing the bad dreams, I find, is better than other strategies we’ve all heard. If you check under the bed, or spray monster dust, you are telling your child monsters are real, which is pretty scary! Telling them “it was just a dream,” doesn’t help either because while it is true that the dream isn’t real, the scary feelings associated with it are very real, and we don’t want the child to feel discredited, or that their feelings don’t matter. I believe in this strategy of addressing the bad dream and giving the child the power to change it.

How can parents, teachers, or counselors use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?

When I read this book with kids, I have them give me their ideas about how to turn each dream around before we turn the page to find out what Hannah does. This engages them and makes them active participants. When the reading is finished, children then take their colored pencils or crayons and begin illustrating the dreams from the book, or they use the blank pages at the end to illustrate their own bad dreams. I will never forget my first time doing a reading like this and seeing a little girl drawing a house with fire coming out of it. That was her own bad dream and not one from the book. Her mother was surprised to see this, and now knew what was troubling her daughter. If she was able to do this in a strange setting with strange people, imagine the success she could have at home! Some children will be able to jump right into sharing their own dreams, some will find it easier to first draw and discuss the dreams given to them in the book. Art is such an amazing tool for kids to show how they are feeling and to open the doors for deeper conversation.

Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics?

As a parent, I always turn to books when my kids are struggling with something. When I can’t find a book that suits my needs, sometimes I write one. My personal technique is using humor and silliness to help kids with tough topics. This may not work with every topic, but find what works for you, and go for it. If you as a parent have a need for a book, chances are others will find it useful as well. And if you’re not sure you’ve hit your mark, test the book out with your target audience, both the parents and children who you envision benefiting from your book.

Where can we find you to keep up with your work or order your books?

My website,, has more information about me and my books. You can also find me on Facebook. If you purchase Goodbye Bad Dreams, I would love to showcase some of your child’s artwork on my website!

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