Your Child's Top 10 Nightmares and Dreams Explained

Being Exposed
Children, like adults, sometimes dream of going out in public without their clothes on or trying to use a lavatory that is unfortunately out in an open area where others can observe them.

What you need to know:
Dreams of public elimination or being unclothed are usually symbolic of a sense of exposure. These dreams usually occur when the youngster is moved into an environment where the expectations are higher, such as starting school or going on to a higher grade. They are not an indication of incipient trouble, but may be puzzling because they tend to occur when the child has done well enough to be moved forward or has made new friends. This is a time to remind the youngster that it takes time to settle into new surroundings and that there is plenty of time to learn the ropes in this new environment.

Being Trapped
In some dreams, the child is paralyzed and cannot run, or she is trapped in a closet or caught somewhere when a crisis occurs.

What you need to know:
These themes of being trapped when the child most needs to run suggest there is something unsettling that she finds threatening in some way. They also suggest that there are forces or expectations in the situation that make it difficult for the child to express or protect herself. If, for example, your child senses tension between you and your spouse but you keep assuring her that nothing is wrong, she is left in a bind. She feels and accumulates fear and pressure, but it's officially off-limits to find out what is going on or talk about the situation with you.

You can help relieve the tension by allowing her to describe her dreams, including what is most scary about them and what puts her in the bind. Don't share your analysis of the dreams with her. Just inviting her to talk about them will help her feel she can communicate more freely and have more control, and that you are interested in her experience.

How to Talk to Your Child about Dreams
In general, it's beneficial to set aside time at the breakfast table each morning to talk about your child's dreams. (You can share some of your own dreams too, if you remember them.) Doing this will let your child know that this is a safe and even fun part of life to be shared, just as if you were talking about favorite books or movies. Drawing dreams, making a game of dressing up and "fixing" the scary ending in a make-believe drama are also good ways to help your child express her dreams, and will ultimately give her a sense of control over both the subconscious and conscious events in her daily life.

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