Children’s nightmares in a dream: what to do?

From disturbing dreams suffer at any age. But preschoolers are the worst – nightmares in children are very vivid, they are difficult to experience. Not all parents know how to help children after terrible dreams, how to explain that monsters do not exist, the dark should not be afraid. In some cases, it is even worth visiting a specialist, if the anxiety does not go away, the baby does not want to go to bed, because he is afraid of another horror. Let’s look at how to distinguish a nightmare from a night terror, why a child has bad dreams, and how this can be avoided.

What is a nightmare

Nightmare is one of the sleep disorders. These are disturbing dreams, because of which the child wakes up. They are well remembered, and the kid can retell their plot. Most often they are disturbed at the age of 2 – 8 years, but they also appear in older children.

Nightmares are similar to night terrors, but there are a number of differences:

  • Times of Day. The child suffers from nightmares in the second half of sleep, most often in the wee hours. And fear, on the contrary, appears about an hour or two (sometimes three) after the baby has fallen asleep.
  • Sleep phase. Fear is inherent in the slow phase, and the nightmare appears only during the fast phase.
  • Influence on consciousness. Nightmares usually lead to awakenings. The child remembers the details of the disturbing dream and does not confuse it with reality. When a baby has an attack of fear, he does not immediately realize what is happening after waking up, he may be frightened by his parents trying to wake him up.
  • Impact on memory. Fears, unlike a similar phenomenon, are poorly remembered.
  • Disorders of the autonomic nervous system. They don’t belong in nightmares. But attacks of fear are characterized by increased secretion of sweat glands, accelerated breathing, and frequent heartbeats.
  • Sleep movements. From fear, the child can wave his arms and legs, try to jump out of bed. During a nightmare, he can only twitch, and then wake up.
  • duration. Fears reach ten to twenty minutes, and nightmares – a maximum of three.

Plots for different ages

Terrible dreams vary by age. They reflect childhood experiences associated with the emotional component. Therefore, the plots of nightmares are different.

By the age of two, babies are afraid of the possibility of being abandoned, as well as adults, whom he sees for the first time, sharp sounds. In disturbing dreams, images of strangers may appear.

When a child is three, he worries about possible punishments. This is influenced by the stories of parents about Baba Yaga, who kidnaps children, intimidation by policemen who “take away the naughty”, the phrase “if you are capricious, I will give you to this aunt”. Adults should be more careful with statements – they are transformed into fears that are displayed in dreams. In the future, the child may be afraid to contact others, panic at the sight of law enforcement officials.

By the age of four, children are most afraid of being in the dark, being alone, finding themselves in a small enclosed space (closed room, elevator, etc.). Sometimes parents have to sleep with their son or daughter because of such fears. There is horror at the thought of the lack of support in frightening moments, defenselessness is depressing. During this period, dreams about persecution, chases, and impending danger are characteristic.

From the age of five to six, the child develops a fear of death. He most often learns that the end of life is inevitable, he is faced with new concepts that are clearly outlined – diseases, fires, wars, accidents, the departure of relatives from life. Dreams show these fears in different forms.

The main plots of disturbing dreams

  • Chase. The kid dreams that he is being hunted, they are chasing him. The image of the enemy is indistinct. It can be a monster – abstract or from a horror movie that scared the child; adult (familiar or unfamiliar). Attempts to overcome fear, to hide from it are sometimes accompanied by dreams with such a plot. The causes of nightmares in an impressionable child are often discord in the family, scandals that cause severe stress.
  • Falling from a great height (the roof of a building, an airplane, the edge of an abyss, etc.) This type of dream is physiologically associated with malfunctions of the vestibular apparatus. If everything is fine with health, most likely, the child is worried about changes in life, worries about what will happen to him in the future.
  • Attack, attack. This dream is a continuation of the plot with the chase – the monsters still overtake and attack. The kid is worried about situations that he is not able to influence. It seems to him that problems destroy the usual way of life.
  • Appearing naked in front of other people. Most often in such dreams, others can mock nudity. The reasons for sleep are experiences due to rejection by others. For example, a child was hounded by peers, laughed at him, although he dreamed of making friends with them.

The main age-related fears and plots of disturbing dreams may differ – it depends on the atmosphere in which the preschooler grows up, what values his parents instill in him, what he watches (programs, picture books), with whom he communicates outside the family (friends in kindergarten, acquaintances parents).

The reasons

The reasons for nightmares are different. There are two main types – psychological and physiological. The first ones include:

  • strong excitement during the day, emotional overcrowding;
  • stressful situations;
  • falling asleep in an unusual place (when the child stays overnight visiting relatives);
  • scandals in the family (swearing between parents, divorce, etc.);
  • horror films, thrillers, especially if the kid watched them closer to the night;
  • experienced fright, which is well remembered.

The main physiological reasons:

  • short-term cessation of breathing during sleep (apnea);
  • increase in pressure;
  • serious head injury;
  • problems during the mother’s pregnancy;
  • a large amount of liquid drunk before bedtime.

To find a way to deal with disturbing dreams, it is worth identifying the cause and eliminating it. The wrong approach will not work: if the baby has problems with pressure, it makes no sense to strictly forbid him to watch TV before bedtime.

How to help a child

Adults are able to relieve the baby of fears, calm down, help to figure out where is reality and where is just an anxious dream. The first step is to figure out what exactly is bothering the child. No need to “pull out information with pliers” – a friendly, calm conversation will do. The child wants to see in the parents the defenders who can be turned to in a difficult situation. They, in turn, should take care of the physical and mental well-being of their son or daughter.

If a child told about a terrible dream that happened the day before, you can help him get rid of unpleasant sensations and anxieties after what he saw.

  • In the Harry Potter book, the characters fight fears by turning them into something funny. Have your child describe the monster that scared him, and then draw it together, looking funny and not scary. This will help the baby change the scary image in his head and no longer be afraid.
  • If the children began to be afraid of the movie they watched, tell them about the filming process. They must understand the difference between staging, artistic reality and reality. Intelligible explanations of adults help kids stop being afraid. In addition, it is worth protecting preschoolers from watching horror films and thrillers, which can greatly affect the fragile psyche.
  • Some people think that a good way to help a son or daughter is to say that adults don’t worry about nightmares. The phrases “you are big / big, only small ones are afraid of dreams” will make the preschooler withdraw into himself, ashamed of his emotions. It is unlikely that after this he will be able to fully trust his parents. On the contrary, it is worth clarifying that fear is normal, everyone went through it and then stopped experiencing terrible sensations after disturbing dreams.
  • Give your child a talisman that protects him from nightmares. A dream catcher above the bed, a soft toy with which the baby will sleep, will do. Convince the child that the gift will drive away terrible dreams, protect against any monsters.
  • First aid in the morning – hug, say something warm and affectionate. Invite the child to open the faucet, wet the handles so that water flows from them, and say that all the bad things are gone, “washed away”. After breakfast, if possible, take a walk with the child in a quiet, cozy park, feed the ducks together, tell him good tales or amuse him with a funny story.

What do nightmares lead to?

Because of the inability to distinguish between dreams and reality, children experience severe stress. They sometimes think that monsters live in our world, appearing only at night, in the dark. Preschoolers are often afraid to go to the toilet at night with the lights off and ask their parents to go with them.

The kid can come up with “rituals” for himself, supposedly relieving fear – take a certain number of steps, go around objects several times, check if there is someone in the corridor.

Nervousness leads to the fact that children bite their nails, wash their hands several times in a row, wind their hair around their fingers or pull them out, and sometimes masturbate.

A fear of being abandoned develops, so the baby intentionally attracts attention, and in different ways – it can be ideal (putting away toys, going to bed on time, always obeying) or, conversely, throwing tantrums, not eating what mom cooks, refusing to put away their things , do not make contact.

The main thing is not to shout at the child, trying to “reason” him, but to establish friendly relations with him, to find out what really worries him. Attempts to resolve everything with severity can lead to the fact that the boy / girl becomes even more isolated in himself, and problems with the nervous system will develop further.

When to See a Doctor

If a child often complains of nightmares, and the help of parents does not correct the situation, it is worth contacting a psychologist. The specialist will explain why such dreams occur, suggest effective methods on how to get rid of it.

A consultation with a child psychoneurologist is necessary if the baby stutters, is unable to endure the toilet (signs of enuresis at different times of the day), bites his nails, is seen masturbating, pulls out his hair. Other alarming symptoms that cannot be ignored are attacks of aggression, silence (especially if the baby is usually active, cheerful, talkative), panic at the sight of strangers, complaints of constant headaches, lack of appetite (his weakness).


  • It is worth making sure that the baby is not involved in parental quarrels, it is advisable not to see them. Ideally, mom and dad need to be able to negotiate among themselves without shouting, calmly – this is how the child develops a model of behavior for the future. He realizes that people are able to make a decision in a difficult moment, just by listening to each other. If a preschooler constantly witnesses scandals, he may suffer from terrible dreams.
  • It is not worth frightening with “babyki” and the police – such attempts to raise an obedient child sometimes lead to the development of neuroses in him. At the same time, it is forbidden to watch horror films and thrillers without explanation, saying “you can’t!” – bad idea. The kid becomes even more interested in the “forbidden” topic. There are many cases when preschoolers enthusiastically read books that their parents specifically hid from them, try to peep from another room when adults are watching those very forbidden horror films. It is worth having a conversation, explaining why it is better to watch some films from a certain age.
  • Do not rush to reject cartoons that seem scary to you – watch the child’s reaction. To play it safe and protect the child from everything in the world is inherent in restless parents, but it happens that their fears are groundless.
  • Before going to bed, it is recommended to walk with the child – not for too long and without being carried away by active games, after which it is harder for him to fall asleep.
  • Keep the baby’s room clean – it should not be dusty or stuffy. Ventilate it regularly. Nightmares are a consequence of the heat, when it becomes difficult to breathe – this affects dreams.
  • Create a cozy atmosphere in the nursery so that it is not scary to fall asleep there. If the baby is afraid of the dark, you can install a night light with soft warm lighting. Fill the room with comfort, and then it will become for your son / daughter the place where no monsters are afraid.
  • Don’t feed your baby right before bed. The optimal time for dinner is two hours before bedtime. In the evening, do not give your child heavy or fatty foods. Make sure he doesn’t drink a lot of water at night.
  • Children often suffer from heavy loads and overwork. It is not necessary to enroll a child in all circles and sections (especially against his will). There are no guarantees that you will grow up to be a child prodigy. But the chances that the child will become neurotic, suffer from nightmares and acquire an “excellent student complex” increase. Listen to his desires, and not your dreams of raising a genius to be the envy of everyone.
  • The daily routine of the baby should be adjusted. If yesterday he went to bed at seven in the evening, and today – closer to midnight, and such “jumps” are not uncommon, this has a bad effect on the child’s body. Pay attention to physical activity – a sedentary lifestyle leads to the development of diseases and pathologies.
  • Don’t skip your doctor’s checkups. So it is possible to identify the physiological potential causes of disturbing dreams in the early stages, and undergo a course of treatment. Do not delay going to the hospital when the child constantly complains about bad dreams that disturb every night.

The most important thing is to listen to the baby, do not ignore his requests, complaints, even if initially they seem frivolous to you. If you want to get close to him, inspire confidence – know how to listen, learn to support, be kind, sympathetic, at some point act as a friend and rescuer from all troubles.

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