In most cases nightmares are a normal and common part of a child’s development. They occur in equal rates among boys and girls.
Children tend to begin having nightmares between the ages of three and six. The frequency of these disturbing dreams usually peaks between the ages of six and 10. Most children then begin to have nightmares less often.
Some children may continue to have nightmares as teens and adults. For them it may be a lifelong problem.
A nightmare disorder may develop if a child has frequent nightmares that wake him or her from sleep. This disorder can cause anxiety, sleep loss and daytime problems. It is one of the childhood parasomnias.
In some children nightmares may be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder. This problem occurs when the child experiences a traumatic or stressful event. In his or her dreams the child may re-enact the event.
Parents can provide comfort and reassurance to a child who has nightmares. Cognitive behavioral therapy may help in the case of an ongoing problem.
Parents also can follow these tips to help a child who has nightmares:
- Let your child sleep with a special blanket or stuffed animal for security.
- Use a dim nightlight in your child’s room to help him or her feel safe.
- Respond quickly to comfort your child when he or she wakes up from a nightmare.
- Discuss nightmares openly with your child during the day.
- Assure your child that it is normal for children and even adults to have nightmares.
- Talk to your child’s doctor if recurring nightmares greatly disturb your child.
Are you unsure if your child is having nightmares or another type of parasomnia? Compare the common features of childhood parasomnias.
Get more tips for parents of a child who has a parasomnia.