On Thursday of last week, Cava went to school and his teacher said he was down all morning. At lunchtime, he started crying. When his teacher inquired as to what was the matter, he told her that he had dreamed that a boy had jumped on him. She asked him if he had gotten hurt in the dream, Cava said, "No." She then asked if the boy apologized in the dream. "Yes," he replied. After they talked about this bad dream for a few minutes, he started eating his lunch. As he did, he began to rock back and forth, still looking really sad.
Hearing this story, made us sad because he clearly needed to be comforted and his teacher couldn't comfort him in the way that his Mom and I could. Still, this was a big step for Cava. For one thing, he opened up and shared his bad dream with someone and, because, he didn't act out because of it. In the past, if he had a nightmare, especially one where someone hit or kicked him, he couldn't distinguish between reality and the tangibility of the dream, so he tended to hit or kick someone that day at school. This time, however, he expressed his emotions in a positive manner.
What makes us really sad is the fact that Cava has spent eight years of his life unable to share his bad dreams with anyone and be comforted. In his past, he has had to bottle that inside and not share his pain. He doesn't understand that these dreams are his way of coping with life and that the violence he dreams of may not only be a recollection of all of the things he suffered growing up in orphanages where his small size made him a target to bigger kids, but also that they are ways of his mind coping with struggles he is still having.
We told him that we were proud of him for sharing his bade dream with his teacher. We let Cava know that he can share those bad dreams with us, especially if the effects of that nightmare linger in his waking hours. It's important for him to share this information with us because, as Dr. Alan Siegel, has written in his book Dreamcatching: Every Parents Guide to Exploring and Understanding Children's Dreams and Nightmares:
The silver lining of painful nightmares is that through the often transparent symbolism, they shine a spotlight on the issues that are most the upsetting, yet unexpressible for your child. Every nightmare, no matter how distressing, contains vital information about crucial emotional challenges in your child's life. To a parent whose ears and heart are open, listening to the most distressing nightmares is like hearing your child's unconscious, speaking directly to you delivering a special call for help.
He writes that this is especially true of recurring dreams which are "often a warning of lingering psychological conflicts" that are "overwhelming your child."
Something that was important in Cava's bad dream, that has not been in previous ones, is that his attacker apologized. Typically, in the past, the child or kids who hurt Cava in his dream are not sorry for their actions. These dreams have had threat and struggle without resolution. Hopefully, this resolution shows that Cava is progressing developmentally and that he is beginning coming to come to terms with his past wounds.
What we have to do, is to offer Cava reassurance whenever he has a bad dream to let him know that he is safe and protected. As Dr. Siegal writes:
When children share their nightmares and receive reassurance from their parents, they feel the emotional sting of the dream, but also begin the process of strengthening their psychological defenses and facing their fears with more resilience. Gradually, a parent's empathic response to their child's nightmares can break the cycle of bad dreams and transform intensely negative experiences into triumphs of assertiveness and collaborative family problem-solving.