‘It was only a dream – not real!’
How many of us heard this from our parents when we woke up from bad dreams as kids? But for children, dreams – and especially nightmares – are super-real experiences which can form part of their long-term memories. It’s confusing for a child to pick up on their parents’ belief that something which feels so real is unimportant. So much of a child’s dream life depends on their parents’ attitude towards dreaming.
Nightmares are very common in childhood, and parents can feel helpless (and sleepless) if their child is waking up with nightmares on a regular basis. There are many tricks and tips parents can employ to help a child’s nightmares to diminish. Inventing a comforting bedtime ritual and doing waking dreamwork such as changing the ‘story’ of the bad dream to something funny or happy is helpful.
Lucid dreaming removes the powerlessness that children feel all too often, both in waking life and in nightmares.
One of the most helpful ‘tricks’ to resolve nightmares is lucid dreaming, and studies have shown the effectiveness of dream lucidity in eliminating nightmares. Children have a facility with learning to lucid dream that many adults don’t have, as children are freer from assumptions and limiting beliefs. It’s highly likely that all children naturally experience lucid dreams. Simply suggesting to your child that she can wake up inside a dream and change the dream if she wants to may well result in a lucid dream that same night!
Gift your child with a happy dream life
- Show an interest in your child’s dream life: share dreams at the breakfast table.
- Encourage your child to work with dreams artistically through story, painting, music or drama.
- Remember this is your child’s dream, not yours – all dreamwork should be child-led, so if a child doesn’t want to draw his dream, don’t insist!
- Explain to your child what lucid dreaming is and how it could help her to:
Make friends with dream monsters; Learn new skills like riding a bike or tying shoe-laces; Have happier dreams
If your child is suffering from nightmares, there are basic steps parents and carers can take:
- Avoid TV and video game violence.
- Invent a safe, beautiful bedtime ritual.
- Give the child a safe space to talk through his nightmare, and encourage him to change the dream story so it is no longer scary. This might involve making it into a funny story, summoning a friend, parent or Superhero to help the child, or using a magical object such as a wishing ring or an invisibility cloak to change events. This retelling of a dream story is a very powerful technique known as Imagery Rehearsal Therapy and it is used with PTSD sufferers. It can work just as well with teenagers as with small children. Make sure the child leads the story action – your job is to listen and offer possibilities if they get stuck, but the changed story must be their own invention to have the power needed to resolve their nightmare.
- Tell your child about lucid dreaming and how it can help with nightmares. The child could change the nightmare while in the dream, through becoming lucid and asking the scary image to be his friend, or banishing it. Children need to know that they always have the option to wake themselves up from any dream.
If you’re looking for a book to help you to help your child to navigate through the inner world of dreams and nightmares, check out the brand new Sleep Monsters and Superheroes: Empowering Children through Creative Dreamplay. This is a book I co-edited with Jean Campbell, and we gathered together an all-star group of world dream experts who each wrote a chapter. My own chapter is called ‘Dream Magicians: Empower Children through Lucid Dreaming.’
Inside Sleep Monsters and Superheroes, there are stories about dreams that help children fight cancer; dreams that empower children to face moments of great change; spiritual dreams of transcendence.
If just one dream can give a child solace after bereavement or self-worth after abuse, then what might be possible when we help children to work and play with their dreams on a regular basis? Sleep Monsters shows you how you can empower the children in your life. It’s available on Amazon.
All dreams carry a potential for creativity, so it’s helpful to see nightmares not as a problem that needs to be dealt with, but as a new possibility for your child to be creative.
Aged four and a half, my daughter woke up saying she wanted to write a lucid dream book and she went for it – she collaged pages of her favourite lucid dreams like sliding down the biggest water slide in the world and being a 91-year old surrounded by trees. She included bad dreams of witches who became her friends when she got lucid. In the picture below, she drew a lucid dream where she turned her father and I into fairies and made up her own power chant:
‘Magic crown, magic crown! Fly us to the moon and stars and sun!’
Lucidity can empower kids. Why not give them this gift if we can: the key to a happy, creative dreamlife! I’m currently editing a book on children’s dreams and nightmares which places the emphasis on practical ways of empowering children through creative and therapeutic dreamplay.
You’re welcome to contact me for advice about working – and playing! – with lucid dreaming with your children.