Parenting nightmare

Nightmares are scary dreams followed by complete awakening. They usually happen during the second half of the night when dreaming is most intense. After the nightmare is over, your child will usually wake up and tell you what occurred. She may be crying or fearful but will know you are there and may have trouble falling back to sleep.

Nightmares are common among all age groups, but especially so among preschoolers. Throughout the preschool years, children must resolve aggressive and sexual impulses, which may be reflected in dreams. The content of young childrens' nightmares is usually relatively simple, tending to involve frightening creatures who make the child feel helpless. In many cases, these monsters are based on things a child actually encountered during waking hours, such as a cartoon, an animal or an unpleasant encounter with a playmate. Young children often have difficulty describing the dream and may in fact be confused, not really understanding what a dream is or that the monster they just saw is not really there.

The secret to calming a child who wakes from a bad dream or who is frightened of the dark is to remind her that she's safe, reassure her that you are there to protect her and provide her with methods for overcoming her fears. Tell her to close her eyes and focus on pleasant thoughts. If a child remains bothered by a nightmare the next morning, have her draw what she saw in her dream; then you can confront it, or suggest that she tear up the paper or throw it away. Older children may want to describe their dream to you. Try to talk with them about it.

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