- In This Feature
- Guide to Nightmares
- Night Terrors
- Night Terrors: Causes
- Night Terrors: Treatment
- First Aid for Nightmares
- Nightmares: More Tips
- Nightmares: Causes
- Nightmare Emergency: Chase or Attack
- Nightmare Emergency: Falling
- Nightmare Emergency: Injury or Death
- Nightmare Emergency: Kidnapped
- Nightmare Emergency: Being Lost
- Nightmare Emergency: House on Fire
- Nightmare Emergency: Vehicle Out of Control
Nightmare Emergency: Falling
Description: Child reports falling through the air, frightened; child may or may not strike the ground in the dream. Note that falling dreams sometimes occur in conjunction with an actual fall from bed. For instance, children have fallen out of bed to the accompaniment of dreams about: falling down a mountain; a small plane falling from the sky; falling off the Empire State Building; being in a rocket that took off in space.
Frequency: Everybody has this dream at least once; common, yet a child does not dream of falling very often.
Usual meanings: "I feel insecure"; "I have no emotional support"; "I have no solid grounding"' "I've lost ground"; or literally, "I am falling."
1. Describe the dream.
- Tell me about it.
- What happened?
- What happened next?
- What did you do?
- How did it end?
2. Reflect the child's feelings.
If child has spontaneously mentioned his or her emotions during the dream, reflect them. If not, ask about them. Comment as appropriate.
- Did you feel different when…(there was a change in the dream)?
- What was the worst part?
- How did you feel?
- You felt scared.
- You felt unsupported.
- You felt helpless.
3. Express reassurance.
- Many children have that dream.
- I used to have that dream; I sometimes dream that (if true).
- Most people don't know you can change the dream.
4. Align allies; take action.
- Strange as it may seem, falling can be a very good dream.
- Remember the adventures Alice had in Wonderland when she fell down the rabbit hole?
- Well, some people in a country very far away tell their children "Falling is one of the best dreams you can have." They say "the earth spirits love you; they are calling you."
- When you dream of falling, relax; let yourself fall gently and land gently.
- Go and find the wonderful things that are waiting for you there. You can see the different people or animals, learn their songs and dances, their masks and costumes, and bring them back to share with us.
- Better yet, next time you have the dream of falling, fly.
- Turn the passive falling into active flying.
- Fly someplace interesting and learn something.
- Remember what you discover and tell me about it when you wake up. You know, it is safe the strike the bottom in a dream. (People are often alarmed from hearing the old tale that if you hit the ground in a dream you will die. This is simply not true; I have hit ground in many dreams, and so have numerous people I know. Thinking that it might be true, of course, adds to the panic of a falling dream.)
- If you could have anything you want happen in that dream—and you can—what would you choose?
- How else would you change the dream of falling?
- (If based on an actual fall) Maybe you are remembering when… How can we prevent that happening again?
- Be sure the child's sleeping area is cushioned and free of hard things, to prevent injury.
- Remember, next time you have a dream like that, fall gently and land gently, or else fly.
- Find something interesting and remember it.
An eleven-year-old boy dreamed of running, tripping over a stick, and falling over a cliff. He was "going down and down and down" and was almost about to hit the rocks, when he thought of changing the dream. He lifted his body up and started flying. He flew over the house he had just left. Birds started following him and talking and imitating him. He didn't understand the birds but followed them as they flew forward. Two eagles joined the group and they all flew and did tricks together. Then an airplane appeared and the boy became concerned he would hit it and woke up.
Although the boy's dream had a negative element enter at the end, he succeeded in pulling himself out of a free fall and was able to fly. In a "redream," he could deal with the airplane as well. When I asked the child whether it was scary flying, he replied, "No, I just did it. It was free, like a bird."
A second-grade girl also had a positive dream about falling; in it, she fell through a gutter where she discovered diamonds and other precious jewels at the bottom.
5. Make a drawing or some other creative product from the dream.
- You had such a good idea last night (or whenever) about how to deal with that falling dream.
- Would you draw me a picture of that dream?
- How would that dream look with the better ending? (if child did not spontaneously include it).
- You can change that picture or draw a new one.
- Why don't you (or we) make up a poem or story about that dream adventure?
A thirteen-year-old girl told me her worst nightmare occurred when she was nine or ten. In the original dream, she opened a door, walked, slipped, and fell into "totally nothing, just space, pitch dark." In her redream, the girl drew a gigantic cushion to catch her and break her fall. Such exercises help the child realize he or she has options within a bad dream.
6. Seek a long term solution.
- Read stories that provide a positive model.
Read, or paraphrase for the very young child, stories that have to do with falling, where the hero or heroine has an adventure, such as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Tell the myth of Antaeus, who grew stronger each time he hit the ground. Stories about flying heroes and heroines, Peter Pan, the winged horse Pegasus, and so on, may encourage your child to convert dreams of falling into flying dreams.
Note of caution: If your child begins to dream of flying, or does so spontaneously, be sure that he or she understands that people can only fly in dreams (unless they have special equipment or machines). James Barrie was obliged to add to his class play of Peter Pan that "…no one can fly unless fairy dust has been blown on him," after several children had been hurt trying to fly from their beds.
- Provide toys with wings.
Airplanes, winged animals, angel dolls and so forth, may be useful in playing out dreams of falling with better endings, and also to practice flying for future dreams.
Reassure yourself that dreams about falling are usually not worrisome.
Unless the child has a phobia about height, has had a traumatic fall, suffers from vertigo, or has some other balance problem, professional treatment is not needed. Freud thought that falling dreams were memories of being tossed in the air and caught by playful parents. They are often related to startling experiences of falling from bed, memories of a fall, or are associated with the sense of "falling" asleep.