- 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: Vehicle Out of Control
Description: Child reports being in a car or other vehicle that is out of control. Circumstances vary: the vehicle may be going off the road, off a cliff, crashing into an object or person. The child may be the driver or a passenger, and may or may not attempt to regain control.
Frequency: Few children have dreams of being in vehicles out of control; those that do have the dream infrequently. This nightmare is much more common in adults.
Usual meanings: "I have no control over what is happening"; "I feel frightened that things are out of my hands."
(If this nightmare is sometimes based on an accident with a car or other vehicle in waking life) "I still feel I can do nothing, the way I felt during the accident."
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 while describing the dream, reflect them. If not, elicit them. Comment as appropriate.
- How did you feel?
- What was the worse part?
- Did you feel differently when…(a change occurred in the dream)?
- You felt scared.
- You felt helpless.
- The worst part was…(when the car was about to crash, you knew you would die, you couldn't stop it, and so forth).
3. Express reassurance.
- Sometimes people have dreams like that.
I'm sure you're happy it didn't happen in the waking world.
- Most people don't know we can do something about dreams of this kind.
- (If based on actual experience) We can't change what happened, but you can change your dream about it.
4. Align allies; take action.
- You know, in dreams we don't have to let bad things happen.
- You can change your dream.
- If that happened to you in waking life, it would be hard to deal with, but is there anything you could do to help? (Grab the wheel, wear seat belt, jump out of the car if it is not moving too fast.)
- In dreams we can do anything.
- Like magic, we can decide what we want and make it happen.
- What could you do to make that dream change for the better?
- Who could help you?
- Who is strong?
- What else could you do?
- In dreams, you can drive the car by yourself.
- Have an adventure.
- Maybe you could turn the car into an airplane and fly.
- Fly someplace interesting; see other children and what they do and remember so you can tell me about it.
- If you ever have that dream again, remember the things you can do.
- Inside the dream, remember that you have power to change it.
- Make it better.
One man steered his car through the air and landed safely after going off a cliff in a dream; a girl who dreamed she was about to crash into a tree steered her dream car around it; a five-year-old boy who dreamed he went over a cliff in a car into water, turned his car into a submarine and drove away.
When a fourteen-year-old girl dreamed a crazy woman was at the steering wheel of a car she was riding in, she might have grabbed hold of the wheel herself or slammed on the brakes. She could have flown out of the wildly veering car, or somehow soothed the driver. Taking action in bad dreams helps a child to feel more capable not only in the dream, but also in tackling the waking situation the dream symbolizes.
5. Make a drawing or some other creative product from the dream.
- What a good idea you had about how to cope with the crashing car in your dream.
- Will you draw me a picture of that dream?
- Show how it will look when you change the dream for the better.
- Could you invent a story or poem about the dream?
6. Seek a long term solution.
Provide relevant toys.
Toy cars, trucks, and other vehicles are useful to act out the dream fantasy in play. Toy vehicles that children can safely drive themselves (such as scooters, tricycles, and go-carts) serve a similar purpose. Make sure the family car is safe. Use safety belts to protect the child.
Read relevant stories.
Read the child stories dealing with the waking situation that makes the child feel out of control. There are many good children's books on changing schools, moving, divorce, death in the family, and so forth. Obviously, attending to the situation that is making the child feel insecure is desirable.
Get professional counseling if needed.
A child who has been traumatized in an actual accident may require help in overcoming the acquired fear.