Children are having nightmares related to the coronavirus. We need to listen to those nightmares. We need to avoid the old standard attempts at comforting children by telling them “Don’t worry, it was just a dream.” Such comments do not work!
Many children, maybe most, do not share dreams. We can ask them to tell us their dreams. Care must be taken, however, on how to do it. Best way is to simply begin sharing our dreams (edited) with them. Children respond at their own pace by telling their dreams. Listen, listen, listen and respond, “uh, huh, yes, oh?, yes, whew, really!, wow.” If it’s a nightmare, a response such as “Wow, how would you have wanted the dream to be or how would you have wanted it to turn out?” could be a good next step followed by more listening.
If the child isn’t comforted by simply telling the nightmare, then ask if they want to draw the dream with an ending they would like. CAUTION: When the child begins drawing and asks for help, avoid any suggestions regarding content. Such suggestions disempower children. If they are really stuck, then one “help” is permitted, “Well, you know, it’s your dream and you could put anybody in it you want to if it would make things better.” If they then ask if the person they’ve chosen is ok, simply repeat, “Well, it’s your dream” or something of the sort.
No, I’m not exaggerating. We do not always know a child is having nightmares. One young person I knew looked like the happiest most well adjusted youngster you would want to meet. Nevertheless she was having the worst possible murderous, bloody, frightening nightmares I’ve ever heard. Children are now being exposed to news designed for adults and that news is being repeated again and again. Hearing the frightening news and the inevitable picking up of anxieties of the adults around them are set ups for terrifying nightmares.
We need to empower our children. Dealing with their dreams and nightmares in the ways I’ve suggested is empowering and can be amazingly helpful! Such an approach is love in action.
If you know of anyone who has concerns and would like to contact me, please refer them to my website www.arthurstrock.com for contact information. I would be glad to answer their questions. Also, my guidebook Live By Your Dreams: Heartfelt Stories About Dreams and What They Tell Us, has a section on children’s dreams that may be helpful.
Arthur Strock, PhD, LCSW