I have not ordered yet, but it is most certainly on my 'must do' list for today. Heck, I might even order one for myself - if they have something to fit me! Anything that can help our little ones during separation from mom or dad - is a great thing!
With her husband deployed first to Iraq and now to Afghanistan, Army wife Anna Rauscher has known nights of worry and of fear. But she's an adult and copes with her fears as spouses of deployed Soldiers always must.
But her five children dealt with the separation and issues they may not have fully comprehended in a way that children of a parent in harm's way often do: in their dreams, with nightmares.
So when she saw a magazine ad that promised to help her kids get through the nights without bad dreams, she didn't bother writing to the email address.She called.
" 'You have five kids?' " asked the voice at the other end of the phone, which belonged to Jim Ramey, the creator and retailer of the DreamCap a kind of armor against nightmares. The product grew out of the retired Navy man's own experiences in helping his children cope with his long separations from home.
Instead of selling Rauscher a DreamCap - and the accompanying CD and story book that make up the entire kit - Ramey sent her five of them, even picking up the cost of postage. All he asked in return, she said, was feedback on whether the DreamCaps worked for her kids.
And in fact, said Rauscher, they worked beautifully.
"I told them the DreamCap is like a shield. I told them it gives them superpowers" to keep bad dreams away, she said.
The power of belief
DreamCaps -- berets for boys, beaker-cut style for girls, and bearing images of drowsy or sleeping cartoon characters -- come with their own lullaby on a CD. The story, called "Ben's DreamCap," explains the power of the cap in terms a kid can understand.
Along with the cap, the "key component" to the system is the parent vouching for it as a guard against bad dreams, "with the same sincerity and conviction as a parent would explain Santa," says Ramey.
That was the brainstorm that hit Jim and his wife, Therese, more than a decade ago, when their youngest son, six year-old Ben, began having nightmares. One night they put a plastic shower cap on the boy's head and told him it would block out the bad dreams.
And it worked.
After learning that the four year-old daughter of a friend who was deployed to Iraq was experiencing nightmares, the Ramey's resurrected the nightmare-blocker as the "DreamCap." Jim, who retired as a Navy chief petty officer in 1999, re-launched DreamCap as a colorful, child-oriented sleeping cap instead of the shower cap they used years earlier."It helped her out right away. The first time she used it she had success," he said.
Jackelyn Cordoba, a Navy wife, believes the DreamCap helped her 5-year-old daughter, Linda, during a period about 18 months ago when the family was moving from California to Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., and her husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Leo Cordoba , was deploying.
"Lots of changes," Cordoba recalled. "The DreamCap was something that helped ... It wasn't like just the Teddy bear -- it was the story about Ben, and how if you believe in [the cap] it will work."
She said her daughter's anxious nights began to subside about a week into using the cap, though she used it for several months. Now five, Linda still keeps it in her bedroom drawer.
"If she has a bad dream or a nightmare, she gets up in the middle of the night and puts it on," Cordoba said.
But does it really work?
Mental health professionals familiar with military family issues, including deployment stresses, are somewhat skeptical of the system, since there is only anecdotal evidence that it works.
"I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it, but a kid could use it and still say, 'hey, I'm afraid something is going to happen to daddy,'" said Dr. Michelle Kelley, a psychology professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia.
To Kelley, a better approach is to monitor what children are seeing on TV and, to the extent possible, what they're hearing that could make them afraid.
"If a child is really upset there are plenty of good military psychologists and social workers available to the child," she said. "We're in war time, and things do get more stressful when a parent is deployed to a hot spot ... or even a place like Kuwait where there's not combat but it's not routine."
Dr. Frederic Medway, a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, can't say how often nightmares stem from a parent being deployed, but they "would, in my opinion, be fairly common.
"They could be triggered by certain things - a parent moving into a dangerous area, not having communications for awhile [with the parent back home], or something in the news about fighting in the area," said Medway, a child and family mental health expert with experience in deployment issues.
But the effectiveness of something like the DreamCap probably only extends to children of a certain age, perhaps from three to eight years old.
"A lot of this obviously is relying on whatever powers the children attribute to the cap and the reassurance from the parents ... and kids become more critical when they become nine or 10," he said. These older children are less likely to buy into the cap's powers.
In fact, it's possible the cap is having a positive effect on the parent because it gives him or her a tool with which to deal with at least one aspect of the stress the child is dealing with.
Ramey, though, firmly believes the DreamCap works, even if it relies heavily on the child's faith. And he also believes it can play a part in helping kids cope with a parent's deployment.
Because of their own background and experiences with deployments, the Rameys offer military families a two-for-one deal on the DreamCap kits, which cost $14.95.
Last year for a time he offered an even more generous deal - giving away DreamCaps to the first 1,000 military families who ordered them online.
"You probably don't know how hard it is to even give stuff away - everyone thinks you're up to something, or have an agenda," he said. "My only agenda is trying to ease a child's mind at bedtime, and if I am able to do that, then maybe I can stop them from having bad dreams."