While us parents are wandering around humming, “School, glorious school,” our kids are caught up in a state of what I call “dreadcitement.” They’re both dreading and excited about, anxious over and anticipating the start of a new school year.
Unfortunately, “dreadcitement” can result in back-to-school nightmares.
We’ve all had them. Some of us still have them: those oft-recurring dreams of failing a test, showing up in class starkers, or being the subject of derision or scorn from teachers or other students.
School’s a huge part of most of our lives. Thus, school dreams are among the most common. I spent 17 years attending school. I worked in schools for another 8 years. Now I’m a parent of kids in school.
Thus, I experience regular school nightmares. One is the classic exam dream, where I realize I’ve inadvertently skipped an entire class, and now I’m going to be tested on a subject I know nothing about, and I can’t find the classroom where the exam’s supposed to take place. This sometimes morphs into a first-day-of-school dream where I can’t find a classroom and no one will help me. And, oh my God, I’m late!
In my other recurring school-based nightmare, I’m teaching ninth-graders again. I lose control of the class, and all the kids start beating each other up and shouting obscenities as I cower against the chalkboard.
Asheville psychologist Dr. Paul Fleischer says, “Bad dreams about being back in school often come up at times when we’re having anxieties about our performance or abilities in our current lives. Let’s face it, most of the insecurities and feelings of inadequacy we have as adults are the ones we developed as children.”
Because I’m female, I can admit to performance anxiety without cringing.
For all of the years that I both attended and worked in schools, the first day of school was the fulcrum of the year. For several nights before the first day, I’d sleep fitfully, caught up in that state of “dreadcitement.”
There’s the thrill of newness and the fear of the unknown all wrapped up in that first day. I still experience this, but now it’s for my kids instead of for myself.
My girl’s inherited my feelings about the first day of school, though she’s more excited than nervous. She loves school. She likes structure and challenge. Her nightmares tend to be of the performance anxiety variety.
My boy, on the other hand, likes school, but doesn’t want to give up his autonomy and hangout time. His nightmare last week was: “My new teacher wanted me to write about my summer, but I wanted to write about aliens taking over the school.”
I’ve never been clear on how to handle realistic nightmares. I can handle monsters and bad guys. However, I think the realistic dreams, particularly those about school, serve to help kids work through some of their “dreadcitement.”
“Kids’ realistic-but-disturbing dreams provide a chance for you as a parent to hear some of their fears that they may not talk about more directly. You don’t have to have all the answers or make it all better. Just asking your children what would be helpful to them will help build a stronger sense of security,” Fleischer says.
So, we can learn from examining these school dreams: both ours and those of our kids. I told my boy that there was no chance the talking, man-eating wolf he dreamed about would show up at his school. On the other hand, he probably will have to write about his summer even though he’d rather compose something more outrageous.
Over the first few days and weeks of school, as we all run around like beavers before a flood, talking about the nightmares could alleviate some of that “dreadcitement.”
(Full disclosure: Fleischer is my friend and neighbor as well as a really smart guy).
Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.