Friday, April 20, 2012

How do I explain dreams to my kids?

The girls are fast approaching three years old, which is unbelievable for a couple reasons: a) The usual one--I don't know how they went from tiny, squirmy proto-humans to mini-people with complicated needs and modes of expression in less than the span of time it has taken me to re-organize my garage (which might not actually get done before they go off to college or trade school or the merchant marine, but it's something I've been meaning to do since right after they were born.)  And b) I realized that I don't feel like the novice parent anymore.  I'm giving advice to new parents, shaking my head at the poor suckers who are doing it all wrong, and not worrying too much about how screwed up my kids are going to be because of the mistakes I make.   It might be early yet, but it seems like they're gonna be all right.

As their communication skills snowball to the point that we're having conversations more sophisticated than most of the ones I had in high school, I'm getting much more access to what's going on in their heads.  They say hilarious stuff (at least I find it hilarious) constantly, as you know if you follow me on Twitter. (Recent example: We were driving and a van pulled up behind us.  I heard a voice from the back seat: "That car is chasing us! That car is chasing us!"  "Why is the car chasing us?" I asked.  "It wants to tickle our car!" the voice answered.)  Sometimes they do stuff that's calculated to get a laugh, and that's hilarious too, even if the joke doesn't work, because it demonstrates what they think is funny, or what they think I'll think is funny.

I'm not sure how it came about--maybe I introduced the idea to them in my quest to peer into their consciousnesses--but they have started talking about what they're thinking about.  Butterbean will be gazing into the middle distance and I'll ask her what she's doing.

"Mmmm...just...thinking," she'll say.

"What are you thinking about?" I'll ask.

"Watching Dora," she'll answer, about 80% of the time. *

So I think it's safe to say that they understand, more or less, what "thinking" means.

Talking about dreaming is a little trickier.  I'm sure they have dreams, of course.  They wake up gibbering in the middle of the night, and sometimes I try to get them to talk about their dreams, just out of curiosity.  I don't press it though, because mostly I want them to go back to sleep.

But they have a lot of books (have I mentioned that they love books?) that feature characters going to sleep and having dreams.  This is usually represented by the good ol' thought bubble, which they haven't quite gotten their heads around yet.  They're kind of attached to the idea that it represents a physical presence in the scene, and they have all kinds of questions when they encounter that particular kids' book convention.

I try to answer their questions about the the dream bubble by talking about real dreams.  I explain them as "what you think about when you're asleep."  And when they ask about dreams in general, I use examples from books: "You know, like when the pigeon falls asleep and dreams about a hotdog party..."

A couple days ago, they were pretending to take naps (which is about as close as they come to actual napping nowadays), and they started saying that they were dreaming.  They pointed up above their heads and exclaimed that they could see the dreams up there.  They've done that routine a number of times since then.  I caught it on video yesterday:

I've always been amazed by how easy it is for kids to understand what's being represented in books.  Elephants are drawn a thousand different ways, and yet kids almost always recognize them as elephants.  It's equally fascinating (and gratifying, since I'm a fan of books) to see them applying, or even misapplying, what they know from books to what they're trying to understand about the real world.   

*We still don't have an actual TV, but they watch some kids' programming on the iPad, and they watch Dora at the Kids' Club (daycare) at the gym, where I've been taking them a couple times a week.


  1. hmm, maybe Dora has those cloud bubbles above her head? kids have the greatest imaginations.

  2. I'm still trying to recover from the shell shock that my niece, who I remember being a proto-baby in my arms soon after she was born, is almost a teenager! Turning 12 this year! I'm not ready for that! Her mom (my sister) isn't too worried, which I think is natural for most parents. However, here I am freaking out about her experiences of what I deem to be the most turbulent years of life!

    Your mini me's are still in the land of dreams, but it's fascinating watching them trying to make sense of a world they're just beginning to see.

  3. All my son knows about dreams is that if he comes out of his room and says he had a bad dream, he gets to either stay up or come into bed with us, lol. I can't wait until they start asking questions that I have no answers to, sounds like fun. Cool video btw!

  4. It amazes me how closes your girls and my girls (will be 3 in July) are in age and development. My girls do the same thing with dreams and I'm having the same problem explaining it to them. One of mine has a recurring dream about the Siamese cats in "Lady and the Tramp." She says that the "bad kitties were in my head." I was kind of impressed that she realized the dreams were in her mind.

    By the way, the thing about tickling the car reminded me of something one of my girls said last night. Her thought was "Daddy, your voice is going to disappoint Cally (our dog) and she's going to melt in the water." Wha-wha-what? Hysterical nonetheless!


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