I just wanted to go back to sleep. I must have been 8… maybe 9 years old at the time.
I was traveling from the kitchen to my room after having a glass of water. It was around 11 p.m. at night. As I traversed the living room making my way toward my destination hallway I began to hear the strangest things.
First, it must have been… the ferocious roar of a lion. Next, an eerie, almost screeching sound… of an elephant’s trumpet. Finally, I heard what could only be… the growling of a very angry tiger.
I was terrified!! There I was, all alone in my home, with no one there to help me. What a relief it was to realize that this had all been a nightmare.
Why do our kids have nightmares?
As a licensed mental health counselor, I know that our dreams usually represent our fears or desires. And nightmares are symbolic of our fears, worries, or distress.
When we dream, our brain is helping us sort through this information so that we can further process our thoughts and feelings.
Six of the most common nightmares that our kids experience involve:
- Being chased
- Being attacked
- Getting hurt
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling lost
For example, my teenage son recently told me that he has dreamed about me being chased by an alligator. Hmmm… let’s hope this was a fear instead of a desire!
So, what can we do to help our kids when they have nightmares?
I like to have kids draw out the scariest moment of their nightmare and describe it as much as they feel comfortable doing so. Then, we take back control of the nightmare by using our imagination.
If a kid’s nightmare involves being trapped in a house, that child may choose to draw their parents arriving to save the day. Let’s say a kid dreams about creepy skeletons in the laundry room. Well, those skeletons are less creepy when we use our imagination to turn them into decorations for a Halloween party. Or maybe a kid had a super scary dream about being in the water. That kiddo might decide to draw a magic dolphin swimming to her to take her to safety. Being chased by an alligator? How about we make that alligator friendly?
The possibilities are endless! Kids really enjoy getting creative in this way. They regain a sense of power and control over their scary dreams.
If your child is having constant nightmares or difficulty functioning because of their nightmares, be sure to seek professional help from a counselor.
About the Author
Erica Whitfield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and over 10 years of experience working with children and adolescents. She is the Founder of Positive Development, LLC, a counseling practice for youth located in Jacksonville, Florida. Erica combines expressive therapies using art, music, physical movement and writing, with evidenced-based therapeutic modalities such as CBT, solution-focused and positive psychology approaches to help children and adolescents process past trauma, transition during difficult life adjustments, form healthier relationships, perform better in school and work through self-harming behaviors. She specializes in providing strengths-based counseling and has helped hundreds of youth unleash their capabilities, transform obstacles into opportunities and find healthy ways to express their energy and creativity.