We can all remember some of our childhood nightmares. I remember one of my first: a huge spider shot an arrow into my heart. What is one of your earliest nightmare memories? As we grow older, have children, and watch our children wake up crying after a scary dream, it's often difficult to know how to give comfort. Here are a few strategies that might help you the next time your child complains of a "really scary dream".
• Remember most children's dreams reflect events in their daily life. Normally a dream reflects emotions, thoughts, and feelings about something that has happened in the last few days. Some children's dreams may contain themes that have occurred throughout life.
• Children's dreams tend to involve more aggression than adult dreams. They also contain fewer characters but the characters that do turn up tend to represent their families, friends, or teachers. Children's dreams often have monsters and shadow figures and contain more animals and favorite objects than adult dreams.
• Children 12 and under often take their dreams literally. (Even in my work with adults, many adults still believe their most frightening dreams are a foreshadowing of events to come). Part of your job will be to reassure your child that the content isn't real, but the feelings in the dream are, and probably reflect their own feelings at some level. Children are very relieved when they are told that dreams represent feelings about our lives and not real things that may hurt them!
• Children benefit from an understanding of why we dream and what our dreams say about our feelings and thoughts. Children's dreams often will reflect a sense of powerlessness over their lives.
• If your child reports nightmares frequently it is critical to explore the dream content and what events might be causing these dreams. Most often the events are normal childhood problems, but occasionally nightmares may reflect a serious problem occurring in a child's life or an event the child is not talking about.
• Ask these questions when your child tell you about a nightmare:
o How did you feel in the dream?
o Have you ever felt that way when you are awake?
o When did you last feel the feeling you had in your dream?
o Tell me about the event or situation that caused that feeling.
o How can I help you with the situation that caused the feeling?
Recommended books on Children's Dreams: Your Child's Dreams (Garfield)
Nightmare Help: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Wiseman)
For more help understanding dreams, why we dream, dream symbols and signs, and getting professional help with disturbing dreams contact http://DreamsHelp.com
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