My son used to be a quiet sleeper. My husband and I would put him in bed at night and we wouldn't hear a peep until morning. But as he neared age four, we began to hear strange cries and screams coming from his bedroom in the middle of the night. In the morning, he would recount stories of "monsters," and "a huge lizard that ate our house." He was having nightmares.
What Causes Nightmares?
Though nightmares can be scary for both child and parent, they are actually a normal part of childhood. Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of children have regular nightmares, according to a report published by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
A child can have a nightmare during any stage of sleep, but nightmares are most likely to occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM), the sleep stage in which most dreams occur.
A nightmare is often nothing more than a nighttime manifestation of a child's response to a scary situation or stressful event. A child may dream about ghosts and witches after watching a Halloween television special, for example. Or, a child may dream that his father has died because his parents are separating and he's terrified that his father is going to live somewhere else.
Soothing Away a Scary Dream
If your child has the occasional nightmare, you don't really need to do much more than soothe her fears and tuck her back into bed. You can also try talking through the dream the next morning and "rewriting" it to give it a happy ending. A nightmare can be a lot less scary to your child once she's shared the experience with an adult.
Because scary television programs and movies can trigger nightmares, carefully monitor what your child watches, especially around bedtime.
In most cases, nightmares will resolve themselves on their own as your child grows, but if the nightmares become frequent or intense to the point that they're interfering with your child's daily routine, ask your pediatrician for guidance.