Nightmares In Children: Causes And Solutions

A child woke up after nightmares.

The parents of children who have experienced nightmares know that nightmares in children could very quickly make the nighttime hours for the whole family unbearable. The stress nightmares cause children are very alarming also. Nightmares are not just scary for children – they change their sleeping/waking patterns and the children (and their parents) do not get enough rest. In the long run, this could affect children’s physical health and psychological state.

What Is The Cause Of Children’s Nightmares?

A child woke up after nightmares.

Nightmares in children could be caused by physical, psychological, emotional and social reasons. For instance, emotional temperament, behavioral problems, emotional events, and social difficulties – all these could be the reasons for your child’s nightmares. However, very often a child is experiencing nightmares because of something he/she saw on TV, the Internet or from interaction with others.

During Early Childhood years a child experiences a number of changes very fast. Children start to understand new things like violence, fear, struggle, crime - that are very new to them. In order to protect your child from seeing too many “new things” at once, you should practice Internet safety. If your child owns an iPad or iPhone, even if he/she just using yours occasionally to play some games – set parental controls on your internet browser. You can set hours of internet use, restrict certain websites, etc.

According to research, sleep problems and nightmares in children in early childhood in some cases could even cause borderline personality disorder symptoms later in adolescence.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by difficult and self-destructive behavior during adolescence. It could include heavy drinking, drug use, unstable relationships, emotional disorders and in some cases even suicidal thoughts. Thus nightmares in children need to be treated and dealt with promptly in order to keep your child’s emotional and physical state healthy.

What Is The Difference between Night Terrors And Nightmares In Children

A newborn is sleeping in bed.

Night terrors usually affect only 3% of children while nightmares affect up to 50% of all children. Night terrors usually happen to older children at 5 to 7 years of age. Nightmares could occur in younger children, starting as early as at 3 years of age.

Usually, children do not remember night terrors and they could have much less of frightening effect on children. Because children do not remember night terrors they would easily go to bed afterward while with nightmares they could be shattered and scared for the rest of the night.

7 Steps To Stop Children’s Nightmares

A baby is lying in white bed.

  1. Find out what is causing your child’s nightmares or night terrors. As with adults, social and emotional events are often the cause of nightmares in children. Trouble sleeping, nighttime fears, nightmares, and insomnia in children often negatively affects not just your child’s emotional and physical state but also the well being of the whole family.
  2. Learn about sleeping hygiene that is appropriate for your child’s age. Children of different ages have different sleeping needs. Smaller children need to sleep more and older less. Napping might be not appropriate for an older child as this can cause problem sleeping at night. Try the various method of relaxations before bedtime and learn what works best for your child.
  3. Be creative and think of things that could help your child sleep better. For instance, get a night lamp and leave it dimly lit throughout the night.
  4. Pay closer attention to what your child is watching on TV. Is there something that could scare him/her? Monitor closely and adjust his/her TV time to make it appropriate for their age.
  5. Ask your child about his/her nightmares and their causes. Sometimes children find it hard to open up with their parents. Use a paper or sock puppet and start a conversation with your child. For example, you can make a sock puppet and start talking in a different voice. A puppet could say: “Hi Billy, I had bad dreams last night. I saw monsters on TV and afterward, I could not sleep all night. Did you sleep well, Billy”? Let the puppet share his stories to help your child to open up. Do not worry if you don’t have one, you can make a sock puppet yourself in under 5 minutes.
  6. Ask a children psychologist for help if the situation gets out of hand. Because nightmares in children affect the whole family it is important to reach out for professional help before matters get worse. Be proactive and try to help your child to sleep better as soon as possible.