Sweet Dreams

Getting a kid to go to bed is an age-old battle that every parent has waged with varying degrees of success. We’ve all been there and there is no shortage on strategies that promise to get your child settled down once the sun sets.

Bedtime rituals and routines really do help a LOT and I’ve got one of my own to share. I started using it when my kids were tiny and it not only works, it builds their imaginations and teaches them how to tune in to messages from their subconscious, too. The trick is to show them how to plan and remember their dreams. It’s a great game and one that I’ll bet they come to love as much as mine did (and do).

Why we dream has long been a subject for debate. Most people believe that we can use dreams to work through issues we are struggling with or to make sense out of something upsetting that has happened.

Early in my second pregnancy, for example, I was very worried about having a miscarriage. One night I went to sleep and began dreaming that I was spotting. I was taken to a hospital, put on a gurney and wheeled in to an operating room. The doctor examined me and said, “She’s having a miscarriage.”  I panicked and was overcome by this incredible feeling of horror. But then I realized I was dreaming. At that point I sat up and said to the doctor, “No. That’s wrong. This is my dream and I’m in charge and I am NOT having a miscarriage.” I got off the operating table and walked away. Then I woke up feeling incredibly empowered. After that, my fears about miscarriage were gone.

With a little work we can train ourselves to remember our dreams and even influence what we dream about. Since most people spend around two hours each night dreaming, it’s worth a try. When I was growing up, my mom would ask us kids what we had dreamed about as we sat around the breakfast table. Since we were fresh from sleep our dreams were often still clear and we would discuss them in detail. We would laugh about the silly or scary situations we had encountered and it did a lot to stimulate our imaginations and story-telling abilities.

I loved this morning ritual, so I continued it with my own kids but went a step further and created a game called “Going to Dreamland” that was played at bedtime.

Here’s how it worked: sometime after dinner I would start asking where they wanted “to go” that night. They knew I meant once they had gone to bed and fallen asleep. I explained that they could do or be anything they wanted in Dreamland. Nothing was off limits and I encouraged them to come up with a rich and detailed story about what they wanted to experience that night as they slept.

Because little children often hate the separation from their parents that comes with saying goodnight, I would tell them that I would meet them in their dreams once they were sound asleep. When the details of where we were going had been ironed out, they were happy and excited to get to sleep so they could go off on their adventure.

Around Christmastime they would often choose to visit Santa at the North Pole and help the elves make toys. My daughter loved dolphins and imagined one who could swim, fly and speak a private language that only she knew. She could ride him as he flew high in the clouds or deep in the sea because she could breathe underwater. I would help her think about things they could do and places around the world they could visit. Sometimes she wanted me to come along and other times she wanted to go all by herself with her sea creature friend.

I approached the game of Dreamland with a lot of enthusiasm and a twinkle in my eye. It was easy for me to help them weave a wonderful, imaginative plan for the night and to get excited with them – because after all, anything can happen when you’re dreaming!

The next morning we would talk about their dreams and they, too would fill the room with funny stories and outrageous adventures. I’m sure that they stretched the truth regularly but to me that was a valuable part of the experience. It was about conjuring possibilities and these early morning discussions did much to build their imagination muscles.

My children all loved this game and to this day they love to go to sleep and to talk about their dreams. No insomniacs at this house! So I want to encourage you to give the game a try. Dreamland is free, always open, and they can go there every night. How could they possibly resist?

Oh, and added bonus? It will make saying goodnight a lot more fun, too.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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