Luca had not yet turned four when he climbed into his mom's bed in the middle of the night and told her this exciting dream:
"I was running away from a huge T-Rex who was chasing me. Then I remembered, wait a minute, I LIKE T-Rex. So I turned around and told him 'Hey, You’re my favorite dinosaur!' And he picked me up so I could ride and then we went to the beach together."
In the morning, Luca asked his mother to write the dream down for him. He had observed his aunt Chele writing dreams in her own journal and thought this was a cool thing to do. When he turned four, his mom gave him a dream journal as one of his birthday gifts.
Luca's mom did the essential first thing that adults need to do with kids' dreams: she listened. Then she did the most important next thing: she helped her young child to do something fun with a dream, which in this case simply meant writing it down so the story would be a keeper. Then, inspired by Aunt Chele's example, Luca's mom provided him with the most special magic book a child can ever have - a book that is filled with the magic of his or her own dreams and imagination.
When it comes to dreaming, as Luca's dream of his favorite dinosaur reminds us, kids are the teachers. Very young children, especially live close to Dreamtime and are fully at home in the realms of imagination.
I am launching a new series of dream playshops for children (and also for families with kids) and I've been thinking about basic things grown-ups need to understand about helping kids with their dreams. Here is my working list:
Basics for Grown-Ups to Understand about Kids’ Dreams
1. Listen up! When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.
2. Set up good dreaming by the right bedtime reading and storytelling and by helping to provide the child with a night ally. You can help a child weave a web of good dream intentions, by asking “What would you most like to do tonight?” Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.
3. Provide quick help with the scary stuff. If a child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get them to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what frightened them and tear it up as violently as possible. Then back to #1: listen up. And on to #4: practice an effective process that will help determine what kind of action the nightmare or the night terror might require.
4. Learn an effective dreamwork process. The core technique is a simplified version of the Lightning Dreamwork Game. When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there’s something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. While offering whatever help you can, you are going to empower your kid by acknowledging her as the final authority on her dreams, and to learn that something can be true even when other people don’t agree (or can’t see it at all). Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.
5. Help the child to keep a dream journal, and get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, “This is my secret book and you can’t read it any more” do not peak. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book.
6. Provide tools for creative expression. Let the dreams come alive through art, dance, theatre and games. Encourage children to draw or paint their dreams, or turn them into stories or performances. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and theatre. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It’s such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives – be ready to be shocked!
7. Be ready to help construct effective action plans that may require adult help, starting with yours. For example, a scary dream or night terror may reflect something in the home environment that needs to be fixed. A child's dream may include a preview of a possible future event, or an encounter with a departed family member, that needs to be clarified and worked with.
8. As you listen to children's dreams, let your own inner child come alive and join in the play.
9. Keep it fun!
See "Starting the Day in Dreamland" (March 17, at this blog) for a glimpse of how fun dream-sharing with kids at the breakfast table by the Lightning Dreamwork process can be.