Electric Dreams

In the Night Minds of Children

Ann Sayre Wiseman

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Wiseman, Ann Sayre. (2002 March).  In the Night Minds of Children. 
Electric Dreams
9(3). 2002 Vol. 9 Issue 3.

John 8

I'm a space man yelling HELP, there are aliens on my ship holding me hostage with their eyes. I am paralyzed. 

Molly 6

I dreamed my Dad took me and his new girl friend out in his boat. I fell overboard and he didn't even notice me drowning.  I felt sad.

Alia 6 1/2

A bat is chasing me I'm shouting help.  I ran straight home. Bat followed me. I hid under my bed. While he was looking in a different room for me, I slipped out and ran to my friends house. When I looked out the window bat was there. He flew in. We screamed and that scared him. 

Robin 7

I woke in the night, thought it was morning, dressed, brushed my hair. Went down stairs.  All along the rail of the stairs were ghosts 10,000 ghosts.  They said "Wowee look at her underwear. Look at her hair style."  I'm throwing up. I'm turning green. 

Nick 6

I am falling out of a plane. This is a bad plane. There was a fight, I lost and fell out. 

Geoff 7

This is me when the ghost is inside me and I'm bloody all over. 

Katie 5

     I'm in a haunted house with a Vampire who will eat me up, drink my blood, and put goo on my legs so I can't walk. 

Jared 7

The King sends the dragon monster to pull my head off and eat my eye balls.  If I don't cooperate he will throw me to the alligators.  The King is so strong he cracks the hill. 

Alexis 6

Skeleton chased me into a deep hole. I was so scared I fell right off my bed. 

Terri 7

my sister and I are in San Francisco. Lightening has burned every single door   and window.  A storm came with icy needles.

We are screaming.

Mom is holding a metal pole which isn't  a good idea.

Metal is a conductor of  lightening it could kill her her. 

     *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

This was just one morning's visit in an ordinary classroom, long before the September 11th disaster.  Imagine what nightmares are now in the minds of children following such an unbelievable act as the World Trade Center Attack. Dreams are the silent unspoken dilemmas of our ordinary healthy, happy seeming children.

These dreams can also be helpers and seen as a metaphor for the kind of fears or life challenges that our children face, without acknowledgment, council, or help. We say they are ONLY dreams but in fact they can offer us an opportunity to learn from  our fears. 

Seeing the dream on paper offers the child a way to remove the fear from the mind and  anchor  it on the paper. Working with dreams helps to teach  negotiation skills,  self defense and creative self empowerment.  (Something I never  learned in school, did you?  A kind of lifemanship my parents didn't demonstrate very well, did yours?)  Skills I only began to appreciate and implement when I started training in the Expressive Therapies, in Assertiveness Training Workshops, in Co-Counseling, EST and Psychodrama.

     Why do we wait until 40 for permission or courage to say NO, to confront the antagonist and stand our ground without guilt or apology?.  To defend ones right to be alive, to feel worthy of existence etc.  Why not teach these skills beginning in first grade?

     The answer is complex.  People who don't have these skills can't teach them. And that is many of us who slide through life avoiding issues, giving in, or taking the consequences.

     I decided to see how kids would grasp the, encouragement and permission to empower themselves by changing the dynamics, by renegotiating a fairer solution, by redefining the bad situation which the night mind delivered in a dream or nightmare.

     We started with paper and markers, putting the dilemma out of the head onto the paper. That already felt better, the dreamer was more in charge. And once the dream was made visible, together we could talk and John could discover more information.

     "John, What needs to happen for you to help the paralyzed spaceman part of yourself who is being held hostage by eyes of the aliens, yelling HELP in your picture?"

     " I don't know.  He can't move"

     "Can he talk?"

     "Yea I guess so if they speak English"

     "Close your eyes and listen, see what he is saying to the Alien"

     " He said Why are you holding me hostage what did I do?"

     "Close your eyes again and listen. What does the Alien say?"

     "He says that's my job."

     "Ask him does he like this job"

     "He says he has to do it and he likes scaring people because he feels powerful"

      "John, ask the spaceman if he is still paralyzed now he can talk to the Alien"

     "No, it helps when we talk he can move a little." 

Any small shift in the dynamics that empowers the Dreamer, changes the victim position and opens the way for negotiation and eventually a win-win solution. 

John said "If you scare me and hold me paralyzed with your eyes, neither one

of us can fly the ship". That revelation made John laugh.  He said I guess we better find a way to get back to earth and that logic released him from the terror into a creative solution. 

     The excitement of exercises like this spread far beyond the drawing of dreams, kids found they could use dialogue like this to handle situations in the classroom and at home.  Betty said her art teacher gave the clay pot she made to another girl and instead of crying she worked out the dialogue on her drawing, until she found a way to convince the teacher that she had made an understandable mistake, and that helped the teacher listen to her side of the argument that explained the pot was really hers. 

  Maggie dreamed her father didn't notice when she fell overboard and started to drown.  When she looked at her drawing she realized that if drowning didn't get her fathers attention away from his new girl friend, she'd have to find a better way to reach him.  She practiced the words and expressed the feelings she had been too scared and hurt to say in the dream. She drew the words she needed to say into her picture (Look at me I am here too) and gave the drawing to her father. 

Instead of being the victim there are ways to empower oneself.  Any parent can help a child work with the dream drawing.  All they need to ask is "WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO HELP THE CHILD IN THE PICTURE."  And stay away from interpretation, let the child lead you. 


Bio: Ann Sayre Wiseman artist, writer, Author of 13 books on the Creative Process, including DREAMS AS METAPHOR THE POWER OF THE IMAGE; NIGHTMARE HELP, A guide for Adults from Children; MAKING THINGS Handbook of Creative Discoveries Spent 12 years teaching in The Expressive Therapies Program at Lesley College, Cambridge Ma. Workshop leader for The Association For The Study Of Dreams and The Cambridge Center For Adult Ed. And places Abroad.