Children, especially when very young, are the masters of dreaming and imagination. At four, [my daughter] Sophie was talking to me about the difference between “wake dreams” and sleep dreams. In a sleep dream, “you don’t know you’re dreaming.” You can have a “wake dream” anytime. In a sleep dream the previous night, Sophie was “feeding crocodiles with vegetables.” In a wake dream of that day, she crossed a rainbow bridge into a magical realm.
When I felt ready to teach others some of the things I had been learning about dreaming and imagination, some of my first classes were for children. I was invited to offer some dream classes for children in the fourth to sixth grades in a “talented and gifted” program in a local school district. I took a selection of rattles and drums to make sure things were exciting. The main excitement, for me, was what happened in the initial discussion. I asked each of three classes of twenty kids how many remembered their dreams. Nearly every hand went up. How many thought dreams were important? Every hand. How many had dreamed something before it happened? More than three-quarters. Then the sad part. How many shared dreams with anyone in their family? Only one kid in each class, in each case a girl who shared dreams with her mother.
I drummed for a while to help the kids call up dreams they might be willing to share. A sixth grader named Liz proved to be the star dreamer. She held us enthralled by recounting a nocturnal adventure in which she moved through seven dreams, nested inside each other. The innermost dream was a vivid and thrilling action movie of the Revolutionary War in which she was a soldier on horseback. Then she described returning to her sleeping body by stepping back through dream after dream.
The kids in those classes sent me handmade thank-you cards. One fourth grader noted, “I learned that anything can happen when you dream and that you can make it come true.” A sixth grader wrote, “I learned that when you die in your dream, you don’t really die. Also, there are a lot of things you can do to prevent bad things from happening when you dream them first.” Liz, the star dreamer, wrote, “I’d like Mr. Moss’ job!”
Sharing dreams with children, my own and others, gave me clarity on some essential things. The first thing to know about helping children with their dreams is that adults need to listen up. This means making a space, a space where you’re not interrupted, where you’re not distracted by the phone or other obligations. And in listening, remember that the child is the expert on the dream, not you. Children know more about dreaming than most adults because they’re closer to the source of dreaming.
If children are scared by scary dreams or night terrors, we need to help them shift that energy right away. Take the child outside and get her to spit on the ground, or help her make an image of what scared her and tear it up. When children are scared in the night, they need support and the assurance they have an ally. The first ally they’re going to hope to find is a parent or older family member. We want to be that ally when they need one. We can also help them appoint another ally to help them face scary things in the night. Young children want something tangible; a stuffed toy representing a fierce but friendly animal can be a terrific ally. When possible, we want to help the frightened child confront a scary dream situation on its own ground, as Sophie chased the monsters and went back inside a dream to recruit a jaguar helper. Because young children are highly psychic, we want to be poised to help clarify and act upon dream messages that may relate to future health or security. I gave up walking a certain path in a local park after dark after Sophie dreamed that I was attacked there.
The next thing we want to do with children regarding dreams is to give them a creative way to celebrate their dreams and to play with them. Help them draw from the dream or develop the story, or turn it into theater. Children are naturals for dream theater. They absolutely love playacting the role of adults who appear in their dreams and all the actions of monsters.
When children start sharing dreams, we can encourage them to start keeping what will become a dream journal, their special place to keep their private adventure stories. We need to help them write when they are very young; but their writing skills will grow, and this will help those skills grow fast. A journal of this kind is going to be a treasure box in that child’s life and in the life of the whole family.
Young children, especially my own daughters, have been my most important mentors in ordinary life on what dreams require from a family or community. The insights I learned by sharing with them apply to dreamwork with adults as well. We need to listen to each other’s dreams, to help each other deal with the scary stuff — when possible, by reentering a dream to confront a challenge on its own ground — and to take action to bring the creative and healing energy of dreams through into the body.
About the Author
Robert Moss is the author of The Boy Who Died and Came Back and numerous other books about dreaming, shamanism, and imagination. He is a novelist, poet, and independent scholar, and the creator of Active Dreaming, an original synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism. He leads creative and shamanic adventures all over the world. Visit him online at www.mossdreams.com.
Excerpted from the book The Boy Who Died and Came Back ©2014 by Robert Moss. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA www.newworldlibrary.com