Child, Child health, Children's diseases, Development of children, fears, Health

nightmares in children and adolescents

nightmares in children and adolescents

When a dream does not let the child sleep

Little Marie is crying bitterly in front of her parents’ bed in the middle of the night: “Mom, I had a bad dream.” All parents know this situation or will experience it several times. Nightmares in children are not uncommon, they happen every now and then. Why do children sometimes have bad dreams and how can I help my child?

What kids have nightmares?

Strictly speaking, every child has nightmares, even adults know the phenomenon from their own experience. In childhood, however, nightmares occur frequently. Small children between the ages of two and about 5 to 6 years in particular report bad dreams in which terrible things happened to them. However, children of all ages are plagued by the unpleasant but meaningful dreams.

Is it really a nightmare?

Nightmares occur towards the end of the night and should not be confused with a night terror. The night terror (Pavor Nocturnus) already shows its unsightly face in the first third of the night, i.e. usually before midnight, when the children have slept for one to three hours. While children with a nightmare wake up completely restless and often bathed in sweat and sometimes run to their parents themselves and can describe their dream exactly, children with a night terror are still in a sleep phase and, despite crying loudly, are not responsive or do not react to the efforts her parents. The next morning they know nothing more about the event.


Why do children have nightmares?

As unpleasant as the horrible dreams are, they are also useful when they occur in normal numbers. In this way, the human brain has found a way of processing experiences, feelings and impressions. Not infrequently, smoldering conflicts are resolved and tensions reduced during a nightmare. Children often roll over problems that you as an adult do not even notice. For example, worrying about the possible loss of a parent , an argument with a friend in kindergarten or training to dress yourself. Also exciting experiences, like a trip to the climbing park or an exciting movie can trigger a nightmare. Between the ages of two and six, children make enormous strides in their mental and physical development. These, too, are sometimes processed in nightmares. Especially after important developmental steps, such as speaking, motor skills or new social insights, children often have nightmares.

How do I respond to my child’s nightmare?

Shortly after the nightmare, parents naturally comfort their children quite intuitively. The little ones urgently need this closeness and security at this moment. Of course, if the child cries in bed at night, parents should immediately look into what is bothering the child. Calm talking and a lot of stroking give security again. If the child prefers to fall asleep in the parent’s bed, please give in to the wish. The child needs closeness.
More on the subject of children in their parents’ bed

If your child is still struggling with the nightmare the morning after, you should seriously consider it. For example, have the child draw the nightmare and then “ritually” destroy the picture, for example with a paper shredder or by tearing it up into small pieces. Talk to the child about the nightmare, this exchange is important for coming to terms with it. Try to walk the line between “dealing with the issue” and “putting too much emphasis on the issue.”

If your child is afraid of falling asleep because of the nightmare in the following days, the kindly meant words “it wasn’t real” will only help him to a limited extent. The child has really experienced the fear and, especially at a young age, cannot yet clearly distinguish between reality and fiction. Rather, children are helped by real things, such as a homemade dream trap, a dream catcher or a new magic night light. Hanging on the bed with a protective cloth and adding a few drops of lavender oil or something similar, a little nightmare-defending scent is created in no time at all. Be inventive and listen to your child.

If you notice that the nightmares occur more frequently and that this leads to serious sleep problems with the corresponding consequences in everyday life, do not hesitate to consult your pediatrician. If necessary, he will write out a referral to a child psychologist, since the causes of the nightmares may lie deeper.

In general, you should still avoid too much excitement before falling asleep, i.e. no cartoons or other video material on television. Bedtime rituals help your child to slowly end the day and to literally relax. A comforting and recurring storyline also gives your child security. Read a story or sing a song, put the protective and familiar stuffed animal in bed with you, etc. This can also reduce the occurrence of nightmares and help your child get a peaceful slumber.


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