Practical Parenting: Dealing with Childhood Nightmares

14 For God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, while they slumber on their beds, 16 then he opens their ears, and terrifies them with warnings…

Job 33:14-16 New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

Growing up is a tumultuous time. Last night my five year old had a night terror. As a psychotherapist and dream specialist, I cannot determine if it was a lucid dream that had him so disturbed that he could not differentiate consciousness from his dream like state, or a night terror occurred because he walked to his brother’s room and thought that his momma and papa were not in the house. Either way, he was  spooked, and feared to even talk to my wife or I about the content of this dreams.

Specializing in the analysis of dreams, I can say that the content of nightmares like all other dreams, are avenues that traverse the gateway of the soul. Freud believed that

“interpretation of dreams is the royal road to… the unconscious activities of the mind” (Sigmund Freud)

Whether we view dreams as avenues to the soul or the mind, their purpose is to shed light on the psyche; this light can be either a positive and negative experience, dependent upon the symbolism present in the dream. In the citation of Job presented above, it states that God speaks to us through visions of the night, opening our ears, and terrifying us with warnings. This is not a new phenomenon for psychoanalysts, who are well aware of the power that dreams can have on changing the direction of our life.

Little boy looking a the city in the night

Advance Confidently in the Direction of Your Dreams

Freud saw the profound influence dreams have on the unconscious activities of the mind. So much so, he created a psychology that strove to understand how unconscious symbolism affects our conscious actions through the lived symptoms of the patient’s he analyzed. From a psychoanalytic perspective, repressed memories are the undercurrent of psychological symptoms, which ultimately affect the life we create in the present, which in turn affects our future.

As practical parents, it is up to us to help our children develop understanding and make  meanings for their dreams. By understanding  themselves in a deeper fashion, children can then begin to unlock the true powers and talents that are hidden within. From this perspective, we can then work with the active imagination of a child as a means to help them learn the lessons the dream alludes to, acquire the skills present, and harness the true power that dreams have on shaping our future potential.

So how does a practical parent work with the night dreams of their children?

  1. Speak actively about dreams – Every morning I inquire of my children’s dreams. Not only to find out about the themes they are working on, but also to expose them to the idea that dreams are important events in our lives. They are not only night stories our mind plays out for us to keep us amused. They are roads to active imagination, which underlies our capacity to set goals, drive ourselves towards their fruition, and realize the fruits of those desires that were once only ethereal in the dream world of our mind.
  2. Help them interpret the symbols of their dreams – You don’t have to be a master at this skill. Just ask them what they think each symbol means. From their, help them interpret the symbols within the context of the whole story. In this exercise, you teach them to analyze a whole story by the parts, and the parts within the context of the greater story that is told. Below are two examples.
    • Dream 1 – My 9 year son dreamed his friend was driving in a parking garage and that he was fearful because he could not get the the ground floor.
      • Content – Driving = Journey.
      • Friend Driving = Not in Control.
      • Not able to get to the ground floor = He was to high in the air and wanted grounding
      • Interpretation = He needs to be in control of his journey in order to assure that he can be grounded.
      • The dream came within the context of major difficulties with his younger sibling, reminding him that he needs to remain grounded, in control, and in charge of his personal journey, despite the constant pressure he receives from his younger brother.
    • Dream 2 – My five year-old son said that bad guys were out to get him, and that he was afraid.
      • Bad Guys – People that should go to jail.
      • Get Him – Woke up in a different room from which he fell asleep. He did not have the comfort of mom or dad who put him to sleep.
      • Afraid – He would not see mom or dad again. Felt abandoned even though we were in the house.
      • Interpretation – He wanted us to rescue him from perceived danger and abandonment. Fear of being alone and separation anxiety (common in children of five)
      • The dream came in the context of my youngest son waking up in my oldest son’s room. At five years of age, separation anxiety is common, especially as children begin to learn that life and death are interchangeable constructs, and the stress associated with paradoxical consciousness begins to emerge in the childhood psyche.
  3. Work with them on their emotions as it relates to their dreams. This helps them attain emotional mastery.
    • Dream 1 – Empathize and learn ways to master the environment, especially in the realm of social interaction, so you can be more in control of your destiny, and less anxious.
    • Dream 2 – Secure yourself. Make home your base. As parents, assure them that we are here to protect them. Normalize their feelings. It’s ok to be afraid. But you can still handle move forward even if you are afraid with a little help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, that is what parents are for.
  4. Teach the morals and values contained in the dream – This is a bit of a stretch, as it is often difficult to abstract meaning from a dream. But in the steps listed above, you should have gained an overall insight into the dream. Help them learn the lessons that the dreams are teaching. It offers them a “royal road” into their unconscious, and by being their practical parent, you are charged with giving them the warnings needed to assure the longevity of their life as well as the food that will nourish the moral and spiritual health of their soul.

Psychology, Psychotherapy, Counseling, Therapy, Mental Health, Psychologist, Therapist, Counselor, Believe, Dream, Imagine, Create.

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