Although nightmares can be very distressing to the child and the parent, they are a normal part of growing up and seem to be the result of the brain processing information. They do not necessarily signal serious problems but may indicate that a child is actively coping with a new challenge. Nightmares can be reactions to upsetting events, situations, or relationships. They can reflect the struggle to learn to deal with childhood fears and problems and can occur in response to events such as entering school, bullying, moving to a new neighborhood or living through a parent’s divorce or remarriage.
Nightmares can also occur in response to stress, illness (for instance, fever), medications, trauma, images on television and sleep deprivation. As nightmares can be a child’s way of coping with something that he or she cannot otherwise manage, children may experience more frequent nightmares during periods of stress, crisis, or change. This may signal that the child is feeling overwhelmed or insecure. Nightmares tend to decrease as children get older and as they develop ways to manage their fears and to gain more control over their world.
It can be difficult to determine if your child’s dreams are related to life events or their current emotional state; this is why further communication and exploration around their dream experience can be helpful.
As a parent, it is important to pay attention to things that are going on in your child’s life. It may be useful for parents to keep a journal of the stressors and positive events that are occurring in your child’s day in effort to increase awareness around how this may be impacting their sleep and dream patterns.
Although nightmares can be normal, when they persist, are recurring, or when their content is consistently violent or disturbing, they could be the result of an underlying psychological or medical cause. This may be the time to seek professional help from a therapist or a pediatrician.
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