- 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: Kidnapped
Description: Child reports that he or she was kidnapped or stolen by people or animals, or someone tried to kidnap the child. Another child in the dream, with whom the child identifies, may be snatched away. Kidnapping dreams are a variation of chase or attack nightmares, so that section might be helpful as well.
Frequency: Few children dream of being kidnapped, although those who do so may have the dream often.
>Usual meanings: "I feel afraid and insecure about my position"; in rare cases, "I wish someone would get me out of here."
Parents should be aware that a staggering number of children are reported missing or stolen each year: 1.8 million in the United States alone, that is, 4,932 every day. At least 313,000 of these kidnappings are estimated to be by one of the parents, usually estranged. From 6,000 to 50,000 are said to be abductions by strangers. It is a crisis, and frequently a tragedy, for all concerned.
Our children are bound to hear about sensationalized cases in the newspaper and on television; they respond anxiously to such reports. Parents need to alert children to avoid danger while still providing confidence in a secure home life. Mothers and fathers must exercise care in public, especially at shopping centers and by not leaving children in unattended cars—these are the locales of numerous incidents of child abduction. Caution and confidence is a tricky but desirable balance to convey to a child.
1. Describe the dream.
- Tell me about it.
- What happened?
- What happened next?
- What did you do?
- How did the dream end?
2. Reflect the child's feelings.
If child has spontaneously mentioned his or her emotions during the dream, reflect them. If not, elicit them. Comment as appropriate.
- How did you feel?
- What was the worst part?
- Did you feel different when…(there was a change in the dream)?
- You felt scared.
- You felt helpless.
- The worst part was…(there was nothing you could do, you were alone, and so forth).
3. Express reassurance.
- Sometimes people have dreams like that.
- It can be very upsetting.
- I'm sure you're glad it didn't happen in the waking world.
- Most people don't know that you don't have to let bad things happen in a dream; you can change it.
- (If child was actually kidnapped in the past) I know it's frightening to remember what happened. Sometimes you feel afraid it will happen again. So do I.
- We can't change what happened in the past, but you don't have to let it happen in a dream.
- You can make the dream ending different; you can change it.
4. Align allies; take action.
- Suppose you could do anything you want in a dream—and you can—what would you do?
- How could you make the dream better?
- What way would you change it?
- Who could help you? Who is strong?
- If that actually happened to you, what could you do? (Call the police or a parent at the first opportunity, pass a note for help to someone, run away from the kidnapper, tell a person that you've been kidnapped, to call the police.)
- In a dream, you could make the kidnappers apologize and return you to your home.
- You could get help.
- You could fight them and win.
A six-year-old girl dreamed she was held by kidnappers in a car. They drove to a city where, from the car, she saw a friend of her mother's in front of a house. The girl unlocked the car door. The lady driving it locked it again. The girl unlocked it once more and opened the door. The kidnappers tried to pull her back in, but she got away and went to her mother's friend's house where she found her mom.
It is very important for children to realize they can take action in dreams, as this little girl did, to get free.
5. Make a drawing or another creative product from the dream.
- Have the child draw the "redream."
- Could you make up a story about the experience?
- Drawing and writing about a nightmare helps the child realize he or she has options; it also desensitizes the child to the fear the dream generated.
6. Seek long term solutions
Children who have actually been kidnapped or stolen and abused require psychological or psychiatric treatment to help heal the inevitable emotional wounds from the experience.
Children who have not been kidnapped, yet dream about it often, need to feel more secure. The theme of being kidnapped often appears in children's dreams during and following parents' divorce; also just prior to or after the birth of a sibling. Parents need to provide loving attention and otherwise increase the child's confidence. If this dream theme does not abate, counseling may be beneficial.
Provide appropriate models
Read the child stories in which a child hero or heroine overcomes being stolen or kidnapped. Being abducted is a classic fairy tale theme. The victim in stories, however, almost always triumphs in the end. Although reading stories about kidnapping may appear to make the child more afraid, in fact, providing models of successful confrontation of fear are far more therapeutic than avoiding the problem.
Teach survival skills
Make sure children know their full name, telephone number, and address, as well as various means of obtaining help if they are ever is such a distressing situation.