Creative dream-talking with your child makes for terrific parent-child interaction. And it also serves to empower your child spiritually and provides an abiding sense of security and a healthy imagination.
Dream therapy is big business for adults. Creative management classes at Stanford University use dream interpretations as an adjunct to lateral thinking. Integrative medicine practitioners use ancient Ayurvedic principles to even diagnose latent diseases. Dozens of New Age dream titles promise to turn your career and relationships around.
The same principles used by professional therapists can be used for understanding your child’s dreams. Since children’s dreams tend to be far less complex than those of adults, you can interpret them with much greater ease. Children’s stories are often replete with dragons, fairies, goblins, animals and Disney characters, and these provide a lucid symbolism of good and bad, of friendship and hurt.
In a confusing and often negative world, dreams provide a child with an escape into a world of purity and possibility. There is nothing unhealthy about rampant dreaming, as long as the child understands them as dreams, unreal events that can be as educative as any science-fiction movie. As you discuss your child’s deepest fears and joys, the level of your interaction and bonding increases. You can use the dream to connect at a deeper emotional level, and encourage the child’s imagination and creativity. Sharing and playfully exploring your own pleasant dreams with children, or even inventing some dreams of your own, can be a wonderful substitute for more detached prepackaged fairy tales!
The dreams themselves intensify the child’s experience of the world and can be used to inculcate strengths necessary to meet life’s challenges and crises. Even if it is a negative dream, use it as a vehicle to empower the child. In her book Nightmare Help, Anne Wiseman writes of a terrifying dream of fire that her son experienced. Her husband suggested that the next time he had a dream of fire he should try to put the fire out. sure enough, when the next fire dream came around, the child took decisive action and was no longer afraid. “And how did you do it,” asked the father. “I peed on it.”
In cases of long-term stress or abuse, such empowerment may often be a slow process. Researchers who attempted to empower an abused child who woke up each night after a distraught dream of falling asked if she could think of a way to improve her dream of falling and save herself. Rather than invent the helicopter as other kids might have done, she just said, “I could fall and not die.”
A study of 268 Palestinian children in a war-torn area in Gaza and a comparison group of 144 kids living in a peaceful area in Galilee, it was found that the more children were exposed to trauma, the more frequently they recalled their dreams. Trauma-induced dreams were bizarre, vivid, emotional, active, and narratively coherent, but they also shielded children from somatic and anxiety symptoms.
Nightmares can have several causes. Sometimes they are nothing more than a normal reaction to the unknown. A loud fight between parents, parental separation, or something as benign as moving to a new school or neighborhood could disturb a child enough to set off a series of nightmares. Nightmares could be the ways in which the child is trying to cope with these changes. In some cases, however, when the child has undergone trauma or long-term stress, they may occur with disturbing frequency and remembrance of such dreams can leave the child feeling fatigued and depressed for much of the day.
Rather than brushing them aside by saying “Don’t worry, it’s just a dream,” parents need to take steps to console and ease their child’s worries.
The most obvious thing you can do is hug the child and utter a stream of comforting assurances that, (1) the worst is over, and (2) it was not real to begin with.
Extract a brief outline of the bad dream and immediately afterward suggest something the child should have done to overcome. Keep it brief. Children tend to be overwhelmed after a bad dream and return to sleep without really waking up fully. You do not need an elaborate interpretation of the dream at this stage.
Do that in the morning when the child can participate in dream deciphering. Encourage a visual depiction of the bugaboo. Then draw a “next time” scenario, of how the child can overcome the problem, like a cage doodled around the sketch of the monster! Now is the time for assertiveness-training. If they are falling, teach them to fly. If they are running away, teach them to stand and fight.
Do not get unduly worried about a nightmare or two every week. Think hard and discuss with your partner if there may be something that is stressing your child. Sometimes intense nightmares may be nothing more than an imaginative child.
Children, especially boys, are brought up to be stronger, and tend to feel a stigma if they feel they are being crybabies too often. Talk about your own nightmares, discuss the universality and normalcy of bad dreams. With boys, it makes the werewolf of their unconscious more like a cinematic werewolf, the anxiety of horror sublimates into the enjoyment of horror.
Of course, now is the time to darken the line between the real and the dream world. Remind them that the bad things that happen in dreams never really come true.
If you are worried that the nightmares are getting far too frequent, and are unable to isolate any cause for the same, seek professional help from a trained psychiatrist or child counselor. Do so even if you feel that the occasional nightmare your child has contains extremely violent or disturbing images. Watch out for signs of depression, lethargy and insomnia.
Watch out for the child using the excuse of nightmares to hop onto your bed every night. You know kids, I know kids.
What Do Kids Dream About?
Only nightmares, you’d probably say, trying to remember the number of times junior has yelled for Mom at 3 a.m. or wanted to sleep with the two of you. Nightmares do abound, but happy dreams about wishes coming true are also very frequent.
Kids dreams start between the ages 3 to 5, with static images of storybook frogs and cartoon characters and bunnies. As they grow older, the dreams get more complex. Animations and mythical creatures like angels and fairies and bearded gods abound. By age 8, they become more active in their dreams. Good dreams include birthday party reruns, receiving and giving gifts, and dreams of lots of toys.
Bad dreams often feature strangers, being lost in the dark, and prospects of injury to the self and to loved ones. By age 12, there is more peer interaction, less with family. Gender differences in the dreams also surface. Boys’ dreams tend to be more physical, more aggressive. Intimation of one’s sexuality may also occur around this age.
Dream Catcher Tips
Remember that dreams aren’t merely whimsical replays of our waking consciousness. They are a subterranean juxtaposition of our memories, wishes and fears. We dream more in times of crises than when we are happy. The more familiar you become with your child’s dreams the easier it will be for you to determine when something is wrong.
A waking consciousness of one’s dreams can add depth to our lives. Talking about the dream can keep us free from stunting repressions and can help us and our kids express general anxieties and communicate complex and conflicting feelings.
Dreams after all are nothing but a series of poetic metaphors packed with information about our essential selves. Transcribing dreams into words is transcribing our deepest fears and most fulfilling joys into our immediate consciousness. It implies an effort to keep our inner and outer narratives connected. A person in touch with his dreams is a person that is in touch with themselves
Welcome the dream. You can’t stop a child from dreaming! Nothing is achieved by telling the child in the morning to “forget about” the dream. Affirm their dreams so that they are not ashamed to reveal their fantasies or perceived failings.
Kids are wonderful at spilling the beans. The simplest encouragement is often all that they need to chatter out their dream scenarios.
Don’t rely on the child’s description alone. Encourage your kids to make pictorial representations of their bugaboos. Articulate possibilities that might arise from the dream or what might have happened. Dreams are remarkably fleeting entities and while some powerful dreams may last for hours after the child has awakened, others might be forgotten in a minute or two.
Encourage a positive mood or implant the prospect of a particular dream just before bedtime. The color of our dreams is usually the same as the mood of our waking consciousness when we are go to bed. A relaxed, stress-free kid that’s not tormenting Mom and Dad before bedtime will invariably be a more happy dreamer.
Don’t trivialize any dream as something not worth discussing. Your validation of their dreams as something worthy of consideration will raise their self-esteem. Dream-talking with your kid can provide a tool to stimulate your child to explore and discover new things about life, especially the connections between abstract thoughts.
In contrast, kids whose parents dismiss their dreams as nonsensical and encourage them to blanket out their dreams as fanciful tend to lose contact with the secret spiritual lives of their kids.
Always keep dream-talking as a fun exercise, so that they too learn not to take their dreams too seriously.
Most dreams are about symbols, even children’s dreams. While the poetic metaphors of dreams help pack a lot of information, they also can be rather difficult codes to crack. Consult a dream therapist or read a good dream interpretation book and try to interpret your own dreams for yourself so that you are more in touch with yourself as well as with your kids. Couples will find that it is a fun thing to do, to share their own dreams and also those of their kids. Families that discuss dreams often end up having dreams on similar themes and bond deeper over the years.#