Dreams and Nightscares–Understanding Children’s Hopes and Fears

“People come and go in life, but they never leave your dreams.  Once they’re in your subconscious, they are immortal.”

Patricia Hampl, American poet

I sometimes have very vivid dreams.  I often wake with ideas in my head.  Sometimes I wonder if my dreams are parts of my active imagination working overtime or if they are somehow visions of what will come.  For example, before making the decision to spend time doing service work and leaving college for almost two years, I had a dream in which I saw faces flashing in my mind.

It seemed as if my brain was tapping into its memory stores searching for everyone I had ever met.  Like some movie collage/montage images of people I hadn’t thought of in years flashed through my mind.  Friends, teachers, neighbors, family members, even acquaintances’ faces flipping one after another finally came to an abrupt stop, and it felt like my mind was searching for faces that I couldn’t pull from memory because they were not there to be pulled out.  I felt I was looking for people I needed to meet.  It was a confirmation to me that I needed to leave school for a short time to go in search of the missing faces.

“All human beings are also dream beings.  Dreaming ties all mankind together.”

Jack Kerouac, American writer

The visionary type of dream has happened to me on more than one occasion and often after I am trying to make an important decision or when I am very connected to another person and they are in need of some reassurance.  My close friend miscarried four times and was devastated over the thought that she would not carry a pregnancy to full term.  I had been present through her heartaches and felt her pain and sadness along with her.  I never knew what to say to help her, but I was always willing to listen and cry with her.

One night I had a dream about my friend and twins–a boy and a girl–whom I could see very clearly with one resembling her and the other favoring her husband.  I hesitated in telling her about my dream because I didn’t want to give her false hope or cause her more upset.  In a conversation with her something made me feel that I should share the dream.  She revealed to me that she hadn’t told me yet because she wanted to be certain, but she was pregnant again.  When an ultrasound confirmed she was having twins, I was the first person she called to share the news.  We both were in shock when further ultrasounds revealed the babies were a boy and a girl.  On one of her last check-ups, I drove her to the doctor’s office, and when he wanted her to go in for immediate surgery, I was present.  The babies arrived in good health looking one like her father and the other like his mother.  It was almost unbelievable, but it had happened.

I am not clairvoyant nor do I make any claims at having powers to see or predict the future, but sometimes I am given dreams that do come to fruition.  Not every dream I’ve had has come true, thankfully.  I had Star Wars Back to the Future sheets as a child that caused me to often dream I was in the movie.  My mom tells of a time I called out in my sleep, “Star Wars has got me.  Star Wars has got me.”  These dreams are more fantasy than the other visionary dreams.

“There seems to be something in dream images that reminds us of language….We have the feeling they might mean something.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet

Scientists studying dreams at Harvard School of Medicine have found that dreams increase with an influx of the chemical Acetylcholine.  Electrical activity in the brain increases as we dream, and unlike all our other bodily functions like heart beat and metabolism, our brain activity even while in deep sleep does not significantly decrease.  Our cerebral cortex houses our memories, and because our waking minds can not process all the information that bombards us during any given day’s activities, much information that we did not consciously process while awake is stored in memory.  High frequency, low amplitude Beta Waves control the mind while awake.  Low frequency, high amplitude Alpha, Theta and Delta Waves contour the dreaming mind.  Brain activity measured in human dreams is also present in other mammals making dreams an universal phenomenon in humans and all mammals.  REM-activity in the brain is not found in lower-order animals, which means other animals most likely do not dream.  The Fruedian concept of the Id comes into play in dreams because the conscious mind does not have control.  The Id then can take over and reveal its needs and desires in our dreaming state.  But, despite Harvard’s attempts and Frued’s theories dream science’s limits remain undefined.

A few years ago at a tag sale in the Warwick Valley, I picked up a book on dreams, Dreams: More than 350 Symbols and Interpretations.  I bought the book because I thought it might be helpful for writing poetry or fiction, but I have turned to it to understand dreams that I have had and that my friends and children have had.  I believe the subconscious mind creates and uses symbols to transmit messages or reveal hopes and fears.

“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night…”

Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

Just this week, a female colleague of mine who is older than I am told me that she had dreamed of me over our summer break.  In her dream I was her mother.  I responded jokingly, “I am your mother.  I was your mother in another life.”  We both laughed.  Later I looked up on the internet what dreaming of someone in the role of mother might mean and read in a couple of places that the person dreaming of you in such a role is in need of “care and support.”  When I mentioned this to my colleague she indicated to me that she could use both from me both in the classroom in increasing the creativity of the writing activities and on a personal level with a contentious custody battle she is undergoing for her son.  I told her she would have my support in both areas.  I don’t know if she believes in dreams the way I do, but her opening up to me about seeing me in her dream opened the door to our conversation about how I can help her, and so I am glad she had the dream.

My six-year-old told me recently about a dream she had where a “vanilla girl” dipped herself in chocolate to become a “chocolate girl,” and she became a dancer like her.  This was an interesting dream to me because I see her thinking about racial identity, and I asked her to tell me how she felt about the dream.  She said she felt “fine” and that the girl in her dream was “happy being chocolate.”  In some ways, I feel this dream represents my smart girl accepting herself.  I am not a psychologist, but I think she has learned to love herself and accept our racial differences.

My two-year old daughter had a nightscare during this same short period.  In her dream a lion was trying to eat her.  She even showed me the finger that the lion was biting.  I had to go into her room and prove to her that there wasn’t a lion.  Still unconvinced and leary of returning to her bed, I did my best roaring and lion battling to scare away any lions in her room.  In this instance, I think my little girl was expressing her unhappiness over her new daycare and the little boy who has been biting her and hitting her.  The lion was her way of letting me know that she is not happy, and the impetus for me deciding to move her back to her former daycare.

For weeks before returning to the regular school year, I have been dreaming that I am stuck in traffic.  This would seem to not be so out-of-the-ordinary considering my commute in congested traffic to my job, but the dream symbol of traffic is also representative of “the extent to which your environment cooperates with or hinders your goals.”  These dreams also indicate that more “patience, self-assertion or creativity” are needed to reach the goals I’ve set.  My greatest goal at present is to write professionally and to publish the material I’ve dedicated so much of my time to already.  Perhaps this dream of being stuck indicates that I have to do something differently to get unstuck.  Writing this blog has been my latest attempt at getting to my goal in a new direction.

Whatever their origin or purpose, I am fascinated by dreams.  Carl Jung believed in dreams revealing universal human experience or collective soul.  “Dreams were purposeful to Jung because the archetypes contained in them offered a mirror in which the dreamer could look for feedback concerning the condition of the self.  Dreams were caused by the world, but were purposeful in explaining the self in the world as well.”  Anything that can help navigate the world, in my viewpoint, is useful and important.  I also find dreams important to helping my children understand themselves and identifying their hopes and dreams as well as thier anxieties and fears.  I enjoy dreaming and sometimes allow myself to do it with my eyes open.

“Existence would be intolerable if we never were to dream.”

Anatole France, French Writer

Books about dreams available on Amazon:



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