April 22, 2020
Finding Silver Linings
By Dr Kathy Weston
Last week, I reflected on the need for children to be given space to process emotions and experiences, and the various ways that parents can facilitate this. I forgot to mention the importance of dreams and encouraging children to take note of these too.
Human dreams, according to the Swiss psychotherapist, Carl Jung, are replete with symbols and themes that indicate a collective consciousness and Jungian therapists specialise in analysing them. Whether or not you subscribe to Jungian psychotherapeutic approaches isn’t so important, but it is important to listen when our children wish to share dream content.
It can be fun to dream, but sometimes things happen in dreams that can be a bit scary or really odd. If this is the case, never be afraid to enquire further. Perhaps your child can draw their dream or one aspect of it? Older children, when asked, will often attempt to decipher what a dream means to them. Recurring dreams are ones to watch: when do they occur? Is your child noticing any particular patterns? Are they linked to worrying times, diet or friendship issues? We won’t always uncover the answers, but your interest matters. If they don’t wish to share, that is fine too.
The benefits of journaling as a means of sustaining positive mental health is the subject of much current research, and dream journaling is no exception. Why might it help to jot down our dreams in the morning? In fact, why does it help to document our thoughts at all? It’s because, as humans, we are always striving to make sense of the past, so we can create a positive, imagined future. In the aftermath of difficult times, we all need a sense of coherence to make us feel more secure and narrative creation can provide this.
For me personally, one of the few silver linings of being in lockdown, has been the fact that some very eminent researchers are available to take part in my #GetaGrip podcast series.
In the last two weeks, I have interviewed two of the world’s leading neuroscientists, an expert in teen depression and the education guru, Sir Anthony Seldon. Last Friday, I interviewed US Professor Charlotte Markey, an expert on body positivity and body image. We talked about the concept of ‘body gratitude’; the importance of teaching our children to reflect on what they love about their bodies and what they admire about how they work. Sometimes, this exercise can take a bit of time, but be patient. After doing this exercise with me, my son expressed higher body confidence. He was able to reframe initial, negative comments about his body into appreciation for the amazing things his body has helped him to achieve. Body gratitude provides a kind of resilient coating to our children as they encounter a tidal wave of digital media, in multiple forms, which heavily promotes body perfection. The enemy of self-esteem lies in comparison to others. We need to hammer home the message that no one is perfect, physically or otherwise. When it comes to talking about our own imperfections, do so in a self-accepting way. As reiterated by Professor Markey, parents should never, ever, talk about dieting in front of their children, nor say derogatory things about their own bodies in earshot of them.
As lockdown continues, and a new school term begins, parents will worry about children’s ability to stay focused and motivated.
Try to think about things one week at a time, but be organised about the aims for the coming week. Put a family plan in place on Sunday evening, for the week ahead. Does everyone know what they are doing? Does everyone have what they need? Do they have a device to work on, when they need to? Is it charged? Does everyone know where their schoolwork is?
Praise your children for prepping well, for participating in family life and for being kind to one another, when you spot it. Plan something your children can look forward to doing at the weekend. Give them a voice in terms of what this might be.
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