Child’s Top 10 Nightmares and Dreams Explained

Child’s Top 10 Nightmares and Dreams Explained
By Dr. GIllian Holloway

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If your child has a bad dream about bugs in her bed, would it surprise you to learn that she may be upset about having a new sibling? You can learn a great deal about your child’s thoughts and feelings, and how to best comfort her, by discovering the hidden meanings behind her dreams. Get interpretations of your child’s most common dreams and nightmares from dream expert Gillian Holloway, Ph.D.

1. Monsters:
Children have different kinds of monsters in their dreams, and the action involved varies. When a monster is hiding in the closet or under the bed, or lives under the front porch, this makes the situation doubly scary, because there is nowhere safe or off-limits. When a monster is chasing the child in a dream, or yelling and threatening, we have a clue that the monster may represent not so much a situation as a person in the child’s life.

What you need to know:
When parents yell or exhibit unexpectedly harsh behavior either toward their children or toward others, this sometimes translates into “monster” dreams. A cranky teacher or scary neighbor can also be the human side of the monster. These dreams are not necessarily a signal of abuse or anything horrific, but they do indicate that your child may be experiencing something stressful, usually regarding someone close to her. If the dreams repeat, notice when they occur and see if you can associate them with waking-life activities or people. If you recognize your own temper or meltdowns as fodder for the dream, take time to reassure your child that grown-ups sometimes get upset too, but that it does not mean she is at risk, she is in trouble or she needs to be frightened.

2. Falling:
Children, like adults, are susceptible to falling dreams when they feel off balance or out of control. Falling dreams occur most often when there is a sense of chaos in the schedule, when small things mount up or when stability feels somehow shaky.

What you need to know:
In a few instances, falling dreams may be associated with ear infections or with an injury to the eardrum. If you suspect your child may be getting an ear infection or has recently had a bad head cold and falling dreams ensue, you may wish to consult your pediatrician. If you don’t believe there is any physical element contributing to the falling dream, then it is possible that your child is dealing with a sense of slipping, as if the normal taken-for-granted aspects of life may not be holding up somehow. This is a time to do what you can to reassure your child of the stable elements in her life, and to discuss, if she is willing to, the things that may seem scary or unsettling. Just the act of sharing can often be reassuring, since she’ll know it’s all right to be scared and that if she feels worried, she can always find a comforting ear to listen.

3. Bugs:
Telling your child, “Goodnight! Don’t let the bedbugs bite!” may be better advice than you think, since children are prone to dreaming about insects in their bed or a swarm of bugs coming into their room at night.

What you need to know:
This is a dream that may recur a few times with varying degrees of agitation. It is a common dream for youngsters to experience when they are facing unpredictable situations, such as a separation in the marriage, moving into a new home or a new sibling being brought home. There is no single catalyst or interpretation for the attacking insects; rather, the frightening dream seems to reflect a sense of bewilderment and being overwhelmed. Arguments, unexpected changes and feeling as if she has no control over events may trigger repetitions of the dream. If your child has this dream, do what you can to give her some sense of control, or at least a voice in her own fate. Point out stability where it still exists, and help things to be as smooth and predictable as possible. And do what you can to manage your own anxiety, for she may pick it up and feel unsettled even though you aren’t saying much about the situation.

4. Ability to Fly or Do Magic:
These dreams allow the child to perform heroic feats by virtue of her magical powers. She can often fly, perform rescues, travel into other realms and generally know what to do to make matters right.

What you need to know:
These lovely fantasy dreams allow your child to experience success by applying personal powers like imagination, compassion, courage and shrewdness to problem solving. They are wonderful dreams to explore in some detail because in some cases they symbolically allow your child to flex her creative muscles and write her own script. Drawing and coloring scenes from these dreams is one way to learn more about where your child feels confident and strong as well as where she may benefit from encouragement. Plus, having conversations about good dreams opens the door to safely exploring all dreams, both good and bad, without making your child feel interrogated or on the spot.

5. Ability to Fly When Being Chased by Villains:
A common theme among children age six and up is being able to run extremely fast when being chased by bad guys. In the dream, the child sometimes runs so fast and so well that she actually takes off from the ground and begins to fly. The villains give chase, but the child’s ability to fly is her safety valve, and she can always outwit the bad guys with this superior power and manage to escape. This tends to be a recurring dream, and it may repeat occasionally, well into young adulthood.

What you need to know:
Children who have this dream usually have a significant challenge that disturbs them. The villains represent the pressure, and the ability to fly represents their own wish to escape, as well as their own sense that they have the intelligence, imagination and power to make their life work out better. Children who have lost a parent, who face economic struggles, who have a sibling that requires special care or who face some challenge that is part of the fabric of daily life seem to have this dream. The good news is that many successful adults report having had this dream during challenging early years. It appears the dream not only denotes the sense of challenge the child faces, but also hints at abilities and intelligence gathering steam to be applied in later years.

6. A Harmless Creature Turns Menacing:
In these dreams, a friendly squirrel is let in the window and turns out to be vicious and violent. Or a beloved toy comes to life and turns into a weird monster. Even a ball of yarn or a baseball glove can morph into something suddenly menacing that stalks your child in the nightmare.

What you need to know:
The theme of something ordinary, even beloved, turning into a threat suggests that your child may be struggling with some situation or person that is usually known and kind, but may sometimes seem inexplicably difficult and harsh. The real-life parallel to the dream may be that your child is dealing with something that seems fine most of the time, but occasionally seems to turn against her. This could be anything from a playground buddy who occasionally plays unfairly to a situation at home that becomes confusing because it flips back and forth between “normal” and “unsettling.”

7. The Witch:
Many youngsters dream of a wicked witch in the tradition of the character in The Wizard of Oz. This witch may be terribly scary, or it may be a more ambiguous character with some redeeming qualities.

What you need to know:
As with monsters, the witch could represent a real-life person in your child’s world, one who is sometimes cranky and unfair. If you suspect the witch may be a science-fiction cartoon of you in your worst moments, don’t take this as an indictment of your worth as a parent. Rather, use the appearance of such dreams as a measure of your child’s confusion and worry. Think about how often you wish for your own reassurance. Then let your child know that she’s always got someone in her corner.

8. A Mean Animal:
These dreams usually involve being chased or attacked by a wild animal, or even a domestic animal that has become enraged. The bull, the lion or the giant spider that chases the child may be a recurring image in a series of chase dreams.

What you need to know:
The animals that give chase in dreams typically represent a situation involving some person that could be troubling to your child. While such nightmares are not necessarily an indication of a serious situation, it may be useful to ask your child to draw the mean animal and to share with you the typical story line of the dream. Because your child probably won’t make any connections between the scary dream and a scary life situation, you’ll want to inquire at another time whether there is anyone at school or in the neighborhood that she finds scary.

9. Being Exposed:
Children, like adults, sometimes dream of going out in public without their clothes on or trying to use a lavatory that is unfortunately out in an open area where others can observe them.

What you need to know:
Dreams of public elimination or being unclothed are usually symbolic of a sense of exposure. These dreams usually occur when the youngster is moved into an environment where the expectations are higher, such as starting school or going on to a higher grade. They are not an indication of incipient trouble, but may be puzzling because they tend to occur when the child has done well enough to be moved forward or has made new friends. This is a time to remind the youngster that it takes time to settle into new surroundings and that there is plenty of time to learn the ropes in this new environment.

10. Being Trapped:
In some dreams, the child is paralyzed and cannot run, or she is trapped in a closet or caught somewhere when a crisis occurs.

What you need to know:
These themes of being trapped when the child most needs to run suggest there is something unsettling that she finds threatening in some way. They also suggest that there are forces or expectations in the situation that make it difficult for the child to express or protect herself. If, for example, your child senses tension between you and your spouse but you keep assuring her that nothing is wrong, she is left in a bind. She feels and accumulates fear and pressure, but it’s officially off-limits to find out what is going on or talk about the situation with you.

*You can help relieve the tension by allowing her to describe her dreams, including what is most scary about them and what puts her in the bind.

*Don’t share your analysis of the dreams with her. Just inviting her to talk about them will help her feel she can communicate more freely and have more control, and that you are interested in her experience.

• How to Talk to Your Child about Dreams:
In general, it’s beneficial to set aside time at the breakfast table each morning to talk about your child’s dreams. (You can share some of your own dreams too, if you remember them.) Doing this will let your child know that this is a safe and even fun part of life to be shared, just as if you were talking about favorite books or movies. Drawing dreams, making a game of dressing up and “fixing” the scary ending in a make-believe drama are also good ways to help your child express her dreams, and will ultimately give her a sense of control over both the subconscious and conscious events in her daily life.

This entry was posted in Emotion and Mental, Growth and Development, Medicine, Pediatric, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

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