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Wilkerson, D.C. (1981). Children's Dreams—1900-1980. Ann. Psychoanal., 9:57-71.

(1981). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 9:57-71

Children's Dreams—1900-1980

D. Clifton Wilkerson, M.D.

The dream has had a special place in the history of psychoanalysis because of its unique emphasis in the early theories of Sigmund Freud. During the years in which analytic theory and technique were developing, dreams were considered the royal road to the unconscious by both child and adult analysts. As time passed and interest shifted to ego psychology, fewer and fewer child analysts were interested in following that road, for they came to consider dreams at best a detour, at worst a dead end. The literature reflects this division and leaves unresolved questions such as: What kinds of dreams are reported by children of different ages and how do they differ? Do they serve purposes other than wish fulfillment? Should children's dreams be clicited or even analyzed when given spontaneously? If children cannot free associate to their dreams as adults do, can their play and other behaviors and verbalizations be considered as equivalent to free association? Althogh a review of the literature raises rather than resolves these questions of theory and technique, it is valuable because it highlights the gaps in our knowledge and the kinds of studies needed to fill them.

“The dreams of young children are pure wish fulfillments and for that reason quite uninteresting compared with the dreams of adults” (Freud, 1900, p. 127n). This, Freud's earliest statement about children's dreams (first edition of “The Interpretation of Dreams,” 1900), was to be subtly modified five years later: “Experience derived from analyses – and not the theory of dreams–informs us that in children any wish left over from waking life is sufficient to call up a dream, which emerges as connected and ingenious but usually short, and which is easily recognized as a wish fulfillment” (Freud, 1905, p. 161).

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