By Bei Linda Tang, January 21, 2020
Although most people think of dreams as random and meaningless, recent scientific studies have shown that dreams contain authentic, relevant, and timely psychological insights that are invaluable in balancing mental health.
Children tend to have more dreams than adults. It’s common for children to have vivid dreams about monsters or scary animals and wake up feeling very upset. Due to the lack of knowledge and awareness about dreaming, most parents will comfort their children by saying that dreams aren’t real and then proceed to change the subject. Though they mean well, their approach is problematic in at least three ways.
First, it signals to the child that their feelings do not matter. Dreams are highly personal mental experiences. Even though the monsters aren’t real, the child’s emotions are and should be acknowledged rather than ignored or dismissed. When my children have nightmares, I first assure them that the monsters are not real, and then help them pinpoint the source of their anxiety, which may be a scary movie or a stressful experience from waking life.
Secondly, by avoiding talking about dreams, parents miss the opportunity to connect deeply with their children. Dreams may reveal issues that might otherwise not come up. For example, your child may have a nightmare due to a bully threat that’s too difficult to express. When you talk openly about the monster rather than pretending it’s not there, you demonstrate empathy, and show that you care deeply about your child’s emotional wellbeing. You can take this a step further by sharing some of your own nightmares with your child, which will strengthen the trust and bond between you. You child may feel more comfortable sharing painful emotions with you when there is common ground.
Lastly, every dream has something to teach us, even the nightmares. Instead of feeling scared and helpless, you can encourage your child to imagine an alternative ending that’s empowering. After all, anything is possible in dreams. For example, if the nightmare is about being chased by a monster, the child can imagine turning into a superhero and fending off the beast. This approach is essentially Image Reversal Therapy, which is a cognitive-behavioural treatment for recurring nightmares from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This process enables the child to think outside of the box and actively create solutions rather than feeling alone, stuck, and desperate. It is a powerful exercise for developing mental resilience in overcoming real-life obstacles.
In my home, every morning at breakfast time, I ask my children about the dreams they might have had from the night before. It’s an opportunity for us to connect, and for me to learn about my children’s unconscious thoughts and feelings. After listening to their dreams, I also write down the details in our family dream journal. This brief morning ritual has brought us closer and helped everyone in my family pay more attention to their dreams and their mental health.
I encourage every parent who cares about their child’s mental health to adopt the simple practices of dream-sharing and dream journaling. They are free and easy to start but will bring immense long-term benefits. They will improve and deepen your family relationships and prepare your child mentally for life’s many unforeseeable challenges.
Bei Linda Tang is the author of “Navigate Life with Dreams: A Guide to Happiness and Peace by Working with Your Own Dreams”, mom of two school age children, and the Owner/Creative Director of Dream Designs.
To learn about Tang's book "Navigate Life with Dreams", visit https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07SZNRWYH