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Children’s dreams – what do we know about them – and what can you do as a parent?

Knowledge of children’s dreams, and how we, as a parent should relate to them.
Children have a very vivid memory when it comes to dreams, and they are strongly influenced by their dreams. This blog post is about what we know about children’s dreams and how you as a parent should ideally deal with them.

Children’s dreams – what do we know?
We dream since we are in our mother’s womb – in fact we dream more there than we do the rest of our lives. REM sleep accounts for 50% of the newborn’s sleep, while only 25% of our sleep when we are teenagers, and only 20% when we become “old”. The reason that babies are much more in REM sleep than the rest of us has been suggested to be an expression of the maturation of the central nervous system (CNS). In other words, there is an enormous amount of pressure on the growth of our brain’s more advanced features, and therefore dreams act as a part of the maturation process. Children can report about dreams they have had as soon as their language skills permit – and they sure do! The key is then how the parents react to this – more on that below! The content of children’s dreams is also very different from adults’ dreams – quite naturally, I am tempted to say.

For example, children’s dreams include many more animals than adults’ dreams, and children are more passive spectators to what happens in their dreams (as opposed to active and contributive). A scientific guess is that this reflects the children’s more instinct-driven behavior, as well as the children’s inability to actively relate to and understand what is happening around them. Even when children are between 6-10 years of age, it has been seen that girls are better at remembering their dreams than boys, and that girls have more “complex” social interactions in their dreams. The boys are often seen as victims in dreams, and also aggressive. It is generally known that at important transitions in the children’s lives, such as start-up in nursery or school, they dream of being persecuted, are enormously fearful etc. These are very clear pictures of how they are actually feeling through these transitions.

How do I as a parent relate to my child’s dreams?
Traditionally, dreams are not seen as something special among parents, and therefore the “standard” approach of many parents is more or less to ignore their children’s dreams – to tell them off as in “it’s just a dream, don’t think more about it.” And in the situation – to the child – it may seem like the right thing to do. I think it’s the wrong approach. First of all, your child’s dream is a clear reflection of exactly what is going on in your child right now, and by trying to understand what your child’s dream contains, you can get a much better understanding of where your child is in his/her life right now, and what occupies it.

Therefore, you can through your child’s dream also get a clear hint about how your behavior as a parent is perceived appropriate or inappropriate for your child. For example, some children may dream that “dad drives too fast” or that “mother is in Sweden” – some pictures of how the father is too busy and has too little time for the child and how the mother might constantly be “away”. As mentioned earlier, the child may at key transitions (e.g. start in kindergarten/school), have many fearful nightmares – quite naturally in the situation, and therefore show a picture of how your child feels. Therefore, it is disastrous if you just reject the dream as “just a dream” – the child perceives it in a way as if you do not understand how it feels. Instead, ask about it and try to understand the dream’s content.

Most importantly, you teach your child (by not knowing how to relate to their dreams), not to take his/her dreams seriously. And it’s very annoying when you in the long run prevent your child to get a good contact with his/her inner self. Finally, I can ask: how do you feel about your own dreams? They’re also, for example pictures of how you tackle important life transitions, changing jobs, etc. Unfortunately, many of us do not remember our dreams, and do not take them seriously. Maybe because we as children have learned from our parents that this is how we should relate to them.