Teaching school students how to understand their dreams

Teaching school students how to understand their dreams

What did you learn about dreams and nightmares when you were at school? Nothing, I’ll bet. Can you remember some of the dreams that puzzled, worried, or frightened you as a young child and as a young adult? Did you talk about them? Was anyone able to help ease your mind, and give you practical tips on how to look into your dreams for clues about how to better handle life’s challenges?

I wish I had known, as a child and later as a young adult, what I know now about dreams. I would have learned how to recognise and deal with the feeling pictured in my childhood recurring nightmare of packs of wolves blocking my path, ready to devour me. I would have learned how to address the situation reflected by my dreams of jumping into a swimming pool for fun only for all the water to instantly drain away. I would have gained confidence from my dreams of being able to see exciting perspectives that other people couldn’t see, and as a young adult the insight I would have gained from my dream of being on an endless staircase that eternally doubled back on itself would have given me a way to create quicker, smarter outcomes than I was accustomed to experiencing. The way I felt about myself and my life, and the way I handled my life, would have been so much better so much sooner.

I received an email earlier this month from Judith, a keen follower of The Dream Show, saying:

“I woke up this morning and thought that there should be a class in high school or college where they teach the basic skills to understand one’s own dreams, or at very least, not to misunderstand them. And then I thought I should share it with you. I guess I am at a point where I acknowledge that understanding my dreams makes a huge difference in my life, a vital difference, and I wish everybody had it too.”

It’s something I’ve occasionally considered, given that we all dream every night, and most of us remember many of our dreams, especially the frightening ones. I asked Judith if I could share her waking thought with you on this blog. I thought we might start painting a picture of how taking dreams into our school systems might look, and seek your thoughts and suggestions. Maybe we can take some steps toward making it happen.

So how would it look, at kindergarten, junior school, high school, and college?

I published some tips on the internet back in 2005 for parents of children suffering nightmares, which you can still read here. While those ideas were designed for parents, some could be adapted and extended into a kindergarten class situation.

Let’s take a general approach, given that you – readers of this blog – live all over the world and experience many different education systems.

Might our picture be of specialists contracted to come into schools and colleges to teach courses on dreams? Or might we picture specialists developing courses and programs for teachers to use in the classroom? May we be bold enough to envision dreams being incorporated into standard curricula from kindergarten through to the end of high school?

Or might we picture offering specialist training in dreams to school counsellors and guidance staff, either to assist them in their work with individual students or to give them the tools to work with small groups?

Or might we picture developing books, videos, games, apps, that individual teachers might choose to introduce into creative studies, personal development, reading, drama, social studies, relationship courses, or student research projects?

I can see, in my mind’s eye, writing a book about dreams for children and young adults. I can see an outline of the content. I can imagine the stories I might write, the games and puzzles designed to teach, the practical tips to follow, the gentle imparting of how to grow and flow with the big lessons of life: coping with change, building resilience, facing fears and difficult emotions, realising potential, making decisions, developing kindness and compassion, and so much more.  It would be a lot of fun to create, but maybe some of the other ideas I’ve suggested are better – and would travel further – in the long run.

Long before I began researching dreams, I worked for two years as a high school science and biology teacher, and spent a term as acting head of biology. It was a very long time ago, and I understand from friends and clients who are teachers today that the paperwork side of things is more complex and time-consuming than ever before, and that the work needed to introduce new courses – let alone new subjects – is somewhat Herculean, but how might we nevertheless begin?

In her email, Judith mentioned helping students “at very least, not to misunderstand (their dreams)”, and I think this is a key point. As a dream analyst I see the heartbreak and high anxiety that can result from misunderstanding one’s dreams, particularly from taking them literally.

I have talked with people who believed they had dreamed the dates of their deaths – and lived their lives (with compromise) taking this into account. (When I show them how to relate the dream to their life, they recognise the symbolism, and, in due time, the anticipated death date passes proving that these dreams are not to be taken literally.)

I have talked with people who have wasted years searching for a soul-mate with the precise physical characteristics they have seen in their dreams – and missed recognising the person who would have been a great match. These dreams are symbolic, and, once understood, can be extremely helpful in identifying and encouraging a dreamer’s potential.

I have talked with people who have believed their dreams of their partners cheating on them (and taken action or withdrawn emotionally), and I have talked with people who have been so shocked by their sexual or violent actions in their dreams that they have mistakenly believed they must be wired for and capable of such acts in waking life. Dreams of cheating, sex, and violence, are normal and common and not what they seem. Once understood, they can be extremely beneficial in helping the dreamer to develop healthy skills for successfully navigating life’s challenges.

I have seen so many people suffer so much pain from taking their dreams literally.

Let’s help make a change. Let’s begin with education early in life.

What do you suggest?

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9 Responses to Teaching school students how to understand their dreams

  1. Jane Teresa Anderson says:

    Here’s a comment that was posted at LinkedIn about this article. I thought I’d share it here because Sara draws attention to the way in which dreams can be used to increase creativity (and more), which I definitely see as an area to include in any school or college based program:

    “Thank you for sharing, Jane Teresa Anderson. Every morning I ask my son about his dreams. This is your influence – I see the need to encourage creativity and connection to inner-self – always!” (Sara)

  2. Judith Cukier says:

    Thank you for this article!
    I was originally thinking of the A B C of dream understanding directed to people that will never be interested in a subject like this. It’d be like saying: “Hey, I know you don’t care about the meaning of dreams right now, but you will have a dream one day that will got you wondering where did it come from, and when that happens you should remember A, B and C, that’s all, class finished” The reason I said high school or college is because those are the ages to take classes one is not really interested in, we all did it. It could have the format of an elective class. In Uruguay such a thing doesn’t exist, two people with the same degree took exactly the same classes to get that degree, but here in the US the kids have electives of all kinds, really random subjects. They are not mandatory but they do have to take certain amount of electives per year. Bigger schools (large public schools) can afford offering their kids a wider variety of electives to choose from. They do it since middle school (6th grade) as far as I know. Another format that is also new for me here in LA is the clubs. They can be started by a student or a teacher, they happen during lunch and/or after hours, and the subjects are even more random that the electives. I can’t think of a more informal format within the system than a club, and it doesn’t really need a program to write, but it needs a person in the school to know about it and start the club. I don’t know how it would work in other countries, though, but I really hope there is a way to insert dream understanding in the formal education!
    Thank you again,
    Judith

    • Jane Teresa Anderson says:

      Thank you Judith,

      I like the concept of a simple ABC and I can picture that. (The cheeky part of me can hear a Muppets song all about the ABC of dreams). I can also picture that ABC being offered at different levels for different age groups and different educational systems/structures.

      More thoughts anyone?

      Jane Teresa

  3. Judith Cukier says:

    Jane,
    I was wondering if any of your books was translated to Spanish? The reason I ask is because in my culture going to the psychologist is the most common thing in the world. In Spanish speaking countries I am familiar with, like Uruguay, Argentina and Chile, I would say that 2 out of 3 people would be interested in some degree in your work. I personally would like to introduce you to some professionals I know if they are translated.
    Thank you,
    Judith

    • Jane Teresa Anderson says:

      Thank you Judith.

      No, none of my books are currently in Spanish. (My first publisher, Harper Collins, published my first book in Swedish and my second book in Chinese – as well as in English of course.) My current publisher – Hachette (Dream Alchemy) – has only published in English.

      I’m open to offers from Spanish publishers por favor y gracias:)

      Jane Teresa

  4. Gabi Black says:

    Dear Jane
    This is a compelling topic with such potential that it can’t be left on the shelf. Children are truly capable of understanding life and deeper meanings so it is not surprising to think that their dreams can be significant. As you propose, it would be highly beneficial for young adults and even young children, to understand the meanings of their dreams at this non-literal level you are referring to. And, in saying that, I am also confident that they would take on the interpretation and understand it for what it is meant to teach them about themselves. This is an exciting prospect! I can already imagine the positive outcomes of such an exercise.

    I want to add that as a parent, as well as a teacher, I think it is essential for the caregiver of a child to take this seriously. There have been many times in my life when I thought I didn’t do my daughters justice by listening to them properly and helping them sufficiently. I think that an open minded and positive approach to dream interpretation, particularly those of our own children, gives the parent the power to understand their child and help their child more effectively. I also think that it is narrow minded to think our children don’t process information and project emotions just as we do as adults. They just lack the communication skills to turn those mature feelings into words, whereas the symbolism that dreams evoke are easier for them to relate, and hence be translated by someone as experienced as yourself.

    I, for one, will do what I can to make a difference in this interesting endeavour.
    All the best,
    Gabi

    • Jane Teresa Anderson says:

      Thank you Gabi for your vote of enthusiasm, for your intention to make a difference, and for your wisdom as both a teacher and a parent. I agree – having looked at so many children’s dreams as well as having reviewed adults’ memories of their childhood dreams – that children feel and process as deeply as adults but can lack the communication skills necessary to express these to receive our help. When children (and their caretakers) are equipped with some basic tools to understand and work with dreams, everyone benefits enormously.

      Jane Teresa

  5. anna black says:

    Hi Jane

    I coach a group of kids after school.
    (They tell me their dreams!)
    Found they love to ‘play games’ -physical, board and card games (as well as on the computer) Much of your material could be adapted for games…
    A

    • Jane Teresa Anderson says:

      Hi Anna,

      Thank you for this. After-school coaching would be a very good place to start, and the kids you coach must be very blessed to know they can tell you about their dreams. Yes, yes, and yes, I’d love to develop much of my material into games, for adults as well as for children! When we play we’re at our most creative and perhaps most receptive to change. Thank you for reminding me.

      A few years ago I created and developed a card game building on my book The Compass, a game for adults which could also be adapted as a children’s version. The Compass focuses on waking life and alchemy (I wrote it for people who don’t easily remember their dreams but who asked me for similarly transformative material), but there are elements in the game that help develop an understanding of dreams. (The game is pitched at developing right brain skills, creative problem solving, and transforming limiting beliefs and perceptions.)

      Games, games, games on all levels, dream and waking life.

      Games (board games, computer games) are quite expensive to develop and produce, so I’m thinking sponsorship or publisher, and a team of people to assist in further development and production. Hmmm …

      Thank you Anna

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