The sharing of dreams helps children release stress, anger, grief and fear.It also clarifies and uncovers repressed feelings and thoughts, improves self-knowledge and listening skills, encourages creativity, empathy, and the expression of positive feelings.
The research of Joan Reynolds, a teacher with a BA in Psychology who studied at the C. G. Jung Institute Educational Center in Houston, Texas shows how the sharing of dreams helped children release stress, anger, grief and fear. She described and interpreted the dreams and nightmares and acted an inner guide to 200 Asian, African American and Caucasian children ages six through twelve in a private school. The two-day a week classes lasted forty-five minutes just before art class.
The sharing or dreams helped the children to clarify and uncover repressed feelings and thoughts, improved self-knowledge and listening skills, encouraged creativity, empathy, and the expression of positive feelings.
Reynolds learned from Carl Jung, the father of Analytical Theory, that each individual has a personal and collective unconscious. The collective unconscious consists of memories established throughout human history inherited in our brain structure as "primal images" or "archetypes." Jung believed we could achieve "wholeness" when we became aware of the images from the unconscious.
Reynolds was also influenced by the dream techniques of the Senoi people who live in the mountainous jungles of Malaysia. The basic principles in Senoi dream theory is to not run or hide but confront or fight back hostile dream figures and to enjoy and move towards pleasurable experiences in a dream. The goal is to give dreams a positive outcome—it could be a gift such as an insight, picture, poem or dance or the memory of something beautiful or useful that can be shared with others. Author Kilton Stewart studied and wrote about the Senoi people’s method of defusing conflict in dreams while on a scientific journey in Malaysia. He thought their dream sharing acted as an educational tool for the children and made them a more peaceful people in the midst of warlike tribes.
Reynolds, "The Senoi begin their day with the dreams of their night. Each member of the family, and especially the children, relate every fragment of a dream memory from the previous night. These creative symbols are discussed and analyzed. Ideas are brought forth concerning the meaning and possible adjustment of difficulties encountered in the dream. These adjustments are scrutinized and the attitudes of the dreamer reviewed, thus, helping to clarify a fear or disguised hostility. The positive elements of the dreams are viewed as well, and extended to show the correlation between similar situations in daily life. In the act of sharing and bringing these night time visions into a conscious frame, a healing can occur."
Reynolds found that contemporary children could also actualize the Senoi dream method with their peers in a school environment. She said, "The interest and excitement was fantastically rewarding…many of the children had been at the same school for years, yet had never related closely until listening to each other in a dream group."
Reynolds shared twelve-year-old Daria’s dream to illustrate how she dealt with her pain concerning the accidental death of her father when she was three. Shortly after the tragedy Daria began having a recurring dream. "I could see sand from everywhere I looked. It was a sort of ocean, but it didn’t have any waves, sort of a crater with water in it. It was very, very blue. There was sand everywhere. I kept seeing it over and over, and there were sandstorms. I would see it a couple of times a night. After a while, I didn’t see it for a long time. When I didn’t have the dream I wished that I would, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Then I would have it again. It went on for a long time—every night, ever since I can remember. It was the first dream I remember. It was like a vision."
Reynolds said Daria’s barren and desolate dream landscape evokes no sign of life and indicates her feelings of utter separation, isolation and loss. Even the water’s waves lack life. However the wind that often signifies spirit (in this case her father) does move and could signify that his spirit still stirs within her although his physical loss could never be forgotten. Reynolds said Daria did not realize she had unresolved feelings concerning her father’s death until she shared her dream. Recurring dreams are often and indication of unfinished business and will recur until the trauma is resolved.
Reynolds stated, "The purpose of a dream is to bring balance. It is a connecting link, a ladder that rises up from the vastness of the unconscious and helps us to better understand ourselves. A dream memory brings us an opportunity to get a broader view of our "personal world." Listening to children’s dreams is a practical way of helping a child through a personal conflict or giving a child additional support and understanding… The more conscious we become of our actions and feelings and the unconscious drives that power them, the greater the possibility is of having more control over our actions. Thus, dreams can help us to realize a more holistic responsibility toward our actions and reactions."
Twelve-year-old Lisa’s dream showed how she tried to compensate for a serious genetic growth defect which resulted in the permanent height and weight of an eight-year-old. " I had a dream that I was a leader of the girl-scout meeting. I had to get there about four-o’clock and my mother gave me a ride. Suddenly, when I got out and walked to the meeting, it turned into a cave. I got there and all the girls were huddled into a bear. A bear had its arms around the girls. I took out my knife and kept stabbing it. There were only three girls in the cave because it was rainy day. I told them to go out until I killed the bear. I kept puncturing it, and this thing came out of it. A girl came in to get me out, and he gobbled the girl up. I punctured the bear again and skinned it. I took the girl out of the bear. She had fainted inside the bear. We gave the girl a bath and then had the meeting."
Reynolds said Lisa’s unconscious compensates for the concrete, day to day conflict in which she finds herself. Her mother a successful professional woman was six-feet tall and had a very domineering personality. Lisa compensates by dreaming of herself as a leader and savior to overcome her fear of her strong mother. Lisa kills the bear, a feminine symbol, in her dream. Because Lisa said that the bear that gobbled the girl up was a "he" it probably represents her mother’s dominant masculine side. The part of her mother that makes Lisa feel that she is being "eaten alive". Lisa may unconsciously identify with the girl that has fainted inside the bear. Lisa’s dream indicates that she will have a difficult time cutting herself free from her mother’s power but there is hope because of her strength and the dreams symbolic ending in a cleansing ritual bath.
Reynolds did not share her dream interpretations with the children but allowed them to examine their dreams and come to their own realizations or not.
She encouraged the children to draw their dream images because "dream images bring an outer form to inner fear and conflicts. Not only is a beneficial release possible, but also unspoken feelings are revealed. Dream images that children draw harmonize with the dream and allow for creative expression." She said, "it gave a sense of order and availability that leads to a peaceful inner and outer flow."
Reynolds said the children are usually eager to draw the more fighting aspects of the dreams and many of the monster pictures come into being accompanied by growls, hissing and weird primal sounds. The children used oil pastels and were drawn to black paper that is usually symbolic of the night or dark inner territory. She said some children had to learn to be messy and she had to teach some restricted or withdrawn children how to find release through art expression.
The intensity and enthusiasm of the children’s sharing of dreams touched Reynolds deeply. She said it is sad that there are so few people who will listen to children’s dreams—it made her want to scream out "listen, just listen."