As part of my work as TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager, I am often confronted with the challenges in our early childhood program of nightmares. Nightmares tend to peak around the ages of 3-6 years which is also the age when the brain is going through extensive fundamental development. At this age, children have not yet differentiated between realty and imagination. The child’s brain isn’t completely developed so it is unable to process extreme daily experiences such as beatings, traumas, and even death. Therefore all these experiences are stored in the child’s unconscious. The brain replays these experiences through dreams, so the child has bad dreams and nightmares. A nightmare is a reflection of the daily experiences with severe physical symptoms such as sweating, screaming, restlessness, and loss of control. The same dream is repeated over and over again.
Through my experience at TYO, I have found that the first time a child experiences nightmares, the parents are very concerned so they show sympathy and a lot of love and care. However, after continuous episodes of nightmares the parent stops taking these episodes seriously, shows less sympathy towards a child and thinks the child is just looking for attention.
After being invited to a training seminar regarding ‘Methodology and Experience of Trauma Education, Fighting Nightmares and Sleep Problems for Improved Education’ hosted by the Norwegian Refugee Council, we learned about the interventions applied in Gaza. Children in Gaza experienced nightmares 5-7 days a week however after this holistic intervention, the nightmares decreased to 0-2 days a week. If a child is experiencing nightmares 5-7 days a week, his/her cognitive levels are less developed compared to the child without nightmares. The child is deprived of sleep, not engaging socially, and withdrawn from others hence their healthy growth and development is stagnant.
Children who have nightmares often do not ask their parents for help and never have conversations about their dreams and nightmares. This intervention encourages children to ask for help and to take control of their feelings and emotions.
In Palestine, we need to open the lines of communication between parents and children and we must empower children to take control of their emotions so they may grow in to healthy adults.
Suhad is TYO’s Psychosocial Program Manager