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When I was 5 years old, I started having hypnagogic dreams. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to see my mother, plain as day, offering me a glass of water. As I reached out to take it from her, though, my mom disappeared, slowly fading away into the darkness of my room.

Another time, I saw cartoon barnyard animals on the wall opposite my bed. They were mooing and neighing and making a huge ruckus.

Needless to say, it was a very odd experience for a 5-year-old. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, studying dreamwork with Jeremy Taylor, that I discovered what had happened.

Hypnagogic dreams are visions that occur between sleeping and waking or waking and sleeping. They can be very real images, seen with eyes wide open, and can evoke any number of feelings depending on what the vision holds.

Throughout my life, I’ve seen hypnagogic spiders with 16 legs crawling on my wall, a man sitting next to my bed, and colorful swirls (that I could physically interact with to move them and change them).

As a child, I didn’t tell my parents what I was seeing, but even if I had, I doubt they would have had a language to understand what was happening to me. “It’s only a dream” would most likely have been their response.

Dream Practices for Kids

When kids dream, they may not understand what’s happening. Ask them if they have dreams in the night, when they’re sleeping. Tell them they’re like movies made just for them.

You can have them start a dream journal in which they draw a picture of the dream or write about it, depending on how old they are.

If the child has a scary dream and remembers it, use the dream imagery to help them process what’s happening. Ask if something scary is happening in their life, or if they’re afraid of something. Maybe a kid is bullying them at school.

Have them draw the character from their nightmare (and make up an image if they don’t remember what it looked like). Then you can talk out loud to the picture. Ask what it wants. Ask why it’s there. Tune in to your inner wisdom and see what response wants to be spoken. Try not to assume you know but allow the response to come from the monster.

Be sure not to say anything that will scare your child more. If you sense the monster’s message is, “I want to hurt you.” Don’t say that to your child. Ask, in your mind, why the monster wants to hurt the child and listen for a deeper message. Perhaps the monster represents a child at school who is jealous. It could be anything.

There are many ways to help your child(ren) process their dreams. You can even turn them into art pieces or story books.

Whatever you do, if your child is waking up in the middle of the night and dreams are the cause, don’t simply say, “It’s only a dream” but work with them in the morning or later in the evening to explore it.

Night Terrors

Night terrors are scary dreams that wake a child up, but the dream content is not remembered. If your child experiences this type of dream, consider seeing a qualified therapist to work through the child’s night terrors.

Dreams Come to Help Us

Helping your child(ren) pay attention to their dreams is like giving them a map to a treasure filled with gold. That’s because dreams, even the scariest, darkest dreams, contain hidden clues about your child’s purpose and potential in life and health.

Dreams inspire children (and adults) to move toward that which will fulfill their soul’s desires. Yet, dreams also help us navigate our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual lives, alerting us to the underlying cause of problems, as well as providing solutions.

Dreamwork is a process that can help your children throughout their entire life.

However, dreamwork (determining the dream meaning) can be tricky if you haven’t done it before. Dreams are multi-dimensional with many layers of meanings. Don’t look to dream dictionaries for meaning. They’re unlikely to help you get to the root cause of your child’s scary dreams. If your child has a difficult dream or series of dreams, I suggest contacting a dream specialist to get help in understanding the meaning of their dream.