In this video, I talk about nightmares/fears, worries etc and how to help children with these disruptive challenges.
The structure or How the child is thinking about the nightmare is the most important factor when talking to them about it. And what we want the child to experience is a lessening of the intensity of the emotion they were feeling so that they can relax and get back to sleep.
The video is just over 8 minutes long, and below is a written transcription of the video. (Click the Read More link)
Hi there. Just a short video with respect to helping children sort out their problems with worrying at night. Bad dreams, fears about things that go bump in the night, that sort of thing. What we're going to talk about really is structure, not content. The thing that we learn in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which is so useful is that structure actually makes most things work and what I mean by structure is like if I can think of what kind of ice cream I like, what I have to do is make a picture in my head and then I mention it once, kind of strawberry looking and that picture is kind of life-size and I can imagine holding it, and get a compulsion of "I really want it". So the content, it could be chocolate, it could be anything. Any flavour, but fundamentally where is it? How am I picturing it? If I pictured it in black and white, would it really be as exciting? Probably not.
So with children, it's really important I've found, and sitting with our daughter; Phoebe is talking about what happened and what it's all about is actually kind of like a little bit like red rag to the bull or flicking a bit of fuel in the flame. What really is more important is how she is thinking about it: is it in colour or black and white? Well, it's in colour daddy. Is it life-size or bigger or smaller? It's kind of bigger than life. And how close is it to you in your dream? It's right there. Well, let's be fair, if something larger than life, colourful and right there, (it doesn't matter what it is), it's going to be pretty freaky. So here's the thing, what we do is we say okay, what would happen if it was a little bit further away? Does it feel as bad when it's a little bit further away, like two or three meters away? Well, no but it's still there. Of course. Okay so it's over there and you make it smaller so it's like that big, but it's five meters away. It's on the other side of the room and it's that big. How does it feel? It's still there, but it doesn't feel okay. If you imagine it kind of a little bit fuzzy and stuck red hair on it. See that's the thing. As soon as you do something like that, you change the structure. The first thing that happens is something changes with respect to how they feel about it because it's different, it changed and also they realize unconsciously that they changed it and they didn't know they could. That's the most important part. Learning that they can change how they feel by changing how something looks in their head because they can't see it out there, but it's kind of there because they're hallucinating it.
Rather than getting into the content, the story, the narrative, which could be really interesting. What was the beast doing? It's actually more important to consider is it in colour? Get into the structure and it's kind of fun and what you notice is that their body starts to relax quite quickly because there is an unconscious recognition that this thing is no longer as frightening or worrisome as it was.
Now the thing that is also quite cool is that if this is a recurring dream or if it's a dream that's happened once or twice and they're kind of similar, like monsters and things like that, once again, it's the unconscious doing its thing. The unconscious doesn't really know that what it's doing is freaking us out because it's just doing what the unconscious does and so what we want to do is while the child is awake and not in bed, nowhere near going to bed, just say now that dream you told me about the other day, was that in colour or was it in black and white? Well, it was in colour. Was it life-size or bigger? It was life-size. How close would it have been? It was right here. What would it have been like once again if it were smaller and further away, black and white and a little bit fuzzy, a little bit out of focus? What would it be like?
What you're doing at that point is you're giving them an unconscious experience. You're bringing something that is normally unconscious up to the present and children are great for this because they live unconsciously most of the time and you shift it or at least you teach the unconscious that there can be some element of control and then they take that information inward and they might not necessarily see it straight away, but they learn something and that could also influence the way the unconscious is doing what it does. Assuming it worked for us and it certainly worked for me.
I had a recurring dream for many, many years. It was quite horrific and a bit graphic. Don't tell the psychotherapist about this, but what I suddenly awoke to, excuse the pun, was that what if I did something with this during the day. So I brought this memory of the dream to mind and I started to change certain aspects of it. Well, interesting enough, it was actually that night, I knew something was different and I never had the same kind of dream, but what I did do was I got myself out of it and that was about two days or a week later. I can't really remember. It was such a long time ago, but I actually found myself in the dream again, but I got myself out of it because I knew that I could change it.
A very graphic experience with a client many, many years ago who would refuse to go to sleep anymore. She was a young woman who was just really exhausted, huge red eyes and she was having the most horrifically graphic dreams where she was actually the person doing it and it was quite horrific. So the long and the short of this, I don't want to get into a lot of drawn out content of the story, but all we had to do was I said to her, I asked her to close her eyes for just a few seconds and I asked her to go into that dream that she was really scared of, which kind of sounds horrible, but I knew that this was going to have an input. I see all the [unclear 6:12] and all the knives are made out of [unclear 6:17] and immediately colour came back into her face and she opened here eyes and said "can I do that" and I said "well do you want to do that" and she said "yes" and I said "well go back and do it again, but this time imagine you're in a clown suit" and she started laughing.
The thing that we forget is that we're in control. The thing that we're being told over and over is you can't control it. It's not a good thing. The unconscious is curious and if it only knows one way of doing something, it's only ever going to do that one way of doing it until we initiate a new way of doing it or give a new suggestion and as we start to take control and teach our children how to have a healthy degree of control in their thoughts and their feelings and of course their sleep and of course their day to day outcomes. So give it a try. Move away from content. Move away from the story and just simply ask "was it in colour or black and white"? What you might have to do is say "listen, I can see you're really upset and I can see this has been very scary for you", not condescending, but really acknowledge it for them because they need to know that you're acknowledging and understanding that they've been really scared. Then say "listen, can I ask you a question. This might sound a bit funny, but was that dream in colour". "Oh, it was in colour". "Was that dream-like how big was it"? "It was like really big". "Like were you right in it"? "I was right in it". So then you say "okay, what would it be like if you weren't in it and it was like over there somewhere. What would that be like"? You might be surprised by what you get back from them.
Give it a go. It's really interesting and it's so much fun. I mean, not fun, but it's fun to see the change and it's fun to give your children a tool because what we noticed with our daughter is this actually starts to positively influence the way she thinks about so many things. She starts to take control of her thoughts, her feelings and ultimately her behaviour.
Have fun. Enjoy.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.