The Dreams of Little Children: Hellishly Boring, or Scientifically Valuable?


I don’t go out of my way to hear about other people’s dreams. I don’t find them particularly meaningful, nor meaningfully different than my own subconscious’ crackpot stories. Dreams are, by their very nature, surreal. But that doesn’t make them interesting.

In taking an anti-dreams stance, however, I occasionally overlook their value in considering congition from a scientific perspective. When dream analysis sheds light on biological unknowns, I’m more than willing to jump in. Case in point, a topic that initially made my eyes glaze over: little kids’ dreams.

As painful as it sounds, surveying the dreams of waist-high humans can actually contribute to our understanding of overlapping mental processes. How preschoolers dream, and subsequently relay their dreams, speaks to their emotional maturation, capacity for abstract thought and grasp on reality.

We don’t entirely understand how younger children dream. For a long time, prevailing wisdom said that youngsters mainly dream in static images; and those images were of animals rather than other humans. Seldom did the children incorporate themselves into their dreams in any active or self-referential way.

Over the years, several studies have challenged this model, offering instead a more complex view of the kiddie subconscious.

The divergent theories speak to the difficulty of conducting children’s dream research, according to a recent study published in Frontiers of Psychology. Basically, kids make for easily agitated, unreliable research subjects. For the study in question, a team of behavioral scientists from Hungary, Germany and the U.S. sought to avoid the pitfalls of previous research; they studied children in their natural environments without sacrificing scientific soundness.

The verdict? We owe kids some credit. Even four-year-old children, who can’t necessarily distinguish between dreams and waking fantasies, dream more like adults than previously thought.

Dreams of the littlest humans

In the past, researchers used two basic set-ups for pediatric dream studies. In —> Read More