Our children do not have to suffer their nightmares in silence, brooding about the lingering feeling of suffocation left by the formless ghost or shuddering at the memory of the razor-sharp teeth of a pack of wolves ripping into their flesh. There are remedies for even the most dreadful nightmares.
Unfortunately, the raw terror that lingers after a nightmare may accentuate a child’s insecurity and bring on anxiety for hours or even days afterward. It may even disturb their ability to sleep by inducing insomnia, or fears and phobias about sleeping and dreaming. To help your child restore their capacity to sleep and to harness the healing and creative potential of scary dreams, we must help them break the spell of their nightmares.
The silver lining of painful nightmares is that through the often-transparent symbolism, they shine a spotlight on the issues that are most the upsetting, yet inexpressible for your child. Every nightmare, no matter how distressing, contains vital information about crucial emotional challenges in your child’s life. To a parent whose ears and heart are open, listening to the most distressing nightmares is like hearing your child’s unconscious, speaking directly to you delivering a special call for help.
Most nightmares are a normal part of coping with changes in our lives. They are not necessarily a sign of pathology and may even be a positive indication that we are actively coping with a new challenge. For children, this could occur in response to such events as entering school, moving to a new neighborhood or living through a divorce or remarriage.
Using role-playing and fantasy rehearsals, parents can coach their children to assert their magical powers and tame the frights of the night. New endings for dreams can be created so that falling dreams become floating dreams and chase dreams end with the capture of the villain. When we give our children reassurance and encouragement to explore creative solutions to dream dilemmas, we restore their ability to play with the images in their nightmares rather than feeling threatened or demoralized. These assertiveness skills carry over into future dream confrontations and lead to greater confidence to face waking challenges.
by Alan Siegel, Ph.D.
Read more: athealth.com/Consumer/farticles/Siegel.html