- 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: Injury or Death
In no case is a dream villain specified; the injury or death just happens.
Frequency: Many people have this dream fairly often. Moderately frequent in children. Dreams of injury or death sometimes occur at the onset of an actual illness, such as a fever.
Usual meanings: "I feel hurt"; "I feel damaged"; "I fear I will be hurt." (This dream is sometimes a warning about physical risk taking.) "I wish that person would go away" (rare). May also mean "I am afraid I will lose that person."
1. Describe the dream
- Did you feel different when…(there was a change in the dream)?
- Tell me about it.
- What happened?
- What happened next?
- What did you do?
- How did it end?
2. Reflect the child's feeling
If the child has spontaneously mentioned emotions during the dream, reflect them. If not, elicit them. Comment as appropriate.
- How did you feel?
- Did you feel different when…(a change in the dream occurred)?
- What was the very worst part?
- You felt scared.
- You felt hurt.
- You felt sad.
- You felt helpless.
- You felt puzzled.
- The worst part was when…
3. Express reassurance
- Sometimes people have dreams like that.
- I know you are relieved it didn't happen in waking life.
- That must have felt weird.
- (If based on actual event) I felt sad, too, about the death—or injury—of X (a specific person). Maybe you are remembering when…
- We can't change what happened, but you can change your dream.
4. Align allies; take action
- What could you do if that actually happened? (Call a doctor, get an ambulance, stick the arm back on until it can be reattached, take the medicine, have an operation, and so on.)
- You know, dreams are magical; you can do anything in them.
- What could you do to make that dream beter? (Have a miracle; put the head back in place, and so forth.)
- You can get someone to help you in the dream.
- Who could you get? Who is strong?
- Is there a potion or medicine you could take for a cure? An operation?
- Why don't you invent a "dream doctor" who can help you in emergencies?
- In dreams you don't have to stay hurt; you don't have to let someone remain dead.
- You can be reborn stronger than ever.
- Come back to life.
- Get a dream friend to teach you how to be extra healthy in your dreams.
- Sometimes dreams give us a chance to say something we still need to say to a person who has really died. Is there anything you want to say to X (a person who is dead)? If you have that dream again, tell him/her.
- Sometime we can learn something important in a dream from a person who has died.
- If you have that dream again, ask the dream figure if he or she has anything to tell you.
- Sometimes dreams can warn us about taking more care. Is there anything you need to be more careful about while you are awake?
- Once in a great while we know in our dreams that we are getting sick before it happens in waking life. (Only if child becomes sick) It looks like your dreams were telling you that you might be unwell.
An eleven-year-old girl dreamed that her girl friend was killed in a car crash, but later the friend appeared alive and well; an eight-year-old girl dreamed that her pet dog returned from the dead to play with her; an eight-year-old boy dreamed that his deceased grandmother came back from heaven to sing his favorite song to him. Such dreams can bring the child much comfort.
5. Make a drawing or some other creative product from the dream
- That was a good idea you had about how to cope with the dream of…(yourself or X getting hurt or dying).
- Please draw a picture of the dream.
- Now show me how the dream would look with the different ending.
- You can change the dream picture or draw a new one.
- Could you make up a story about the dream experience?
An eight-year-old boy dreamed he was hiking up a hill. He did not see a hole that was eight feet deep, and he fell into it. "I had to stay in there a week, eating dirt," he told me. He explained that during the day of the dream he had actually tripped and hurt his ankle; he had to wear an ice pack. In this boy's case, his dreaming mind was picking up sensations of pain in the ankle and weaving them into a story. When the boy "redreamed" this episode of being trapped, he had someone come along with a ladder to help him climb out. Although this did not alleviate the child's ankle pain, it may have eased his discomfort over feeling hurt and trapped in the dream. It helped him to practice active coping with life.
Later on, the child may be able to apply the same technique within the dream. The boy later told me with pleasure, "Hey, it's true—what you said yesterday about changing dreams. Last night I was at a May fair. And then my mom said, 'Come on, you have to go home.' I thought in my mind, 'No you don't have to, it's a dream.' I stayed and played. I came home by myself. It's kind of fun!"
6. Seek a long term solution
- Read relevant stories
Read the child stories about children who overcome personal injury or who cope with death, as appropriate. True stories of survivors can be inspiring; provide a model of success.
- Provide appropriate toys
Toys to make available might include doctor and nurse dolls, and a physician's kit.
- Teach appropriate skills
Children who engage in waking activities relevant to the desired change in their dream may find that the new information and new skills carry over to their dream states. A woman who had recurrent dreams of being hurt at the bottom of a ravine was taught mountain-climbing skills while awake until she could remember them in her sleep. Eventually she dreamed of calling to her husband who threw her a long rope by which she pulled herself to safe ground.
When a child is actually ill or dying, dreams about this topic are to be expected. However, when children who are physically well dream often about being distorted, maimed, sick, or dying, or these things happening to other dream characters, they may benefit from therapy.