“My child has nightmares, what can I do?”, is a question many parents ask and is extremely common. Children having nightmares is of course not always just the result of watching scary films either. A child having nightmares may be a one off event or it could also be a sign of other problems, be it finding school work hard, being bullied or feeling stress in some way.

If your child does not sleep well, consider also aspects of diet and exercise and whether in general your child is healthy and fit. Sleep is very important and children of course need many more hours than adults and those hours of sleep need to be of good quality as well.

Why does a child have nightmares?

Both children and adults dream for more or less the same reasons. With clients whom I help with decreasing nightmares, I like to think of dreaming at night as a way for the subconscious to clear away the unresolved thoughts from that day. To  decrease the frequency and intensity of nightmares, we can look at the specific images seen or also look at the bigger picture and context of what is happening in day to day life.

Our minds are full of so many images and ideas that our brains need to crunch and process. During sleep and dreaming our subconscious minds filter and play with all the loose ends and thoughts we have ignored during our waking hours. When asleep our imagination can also run a little wild as well and our thoughts can have more freedom to express themselves. Your child will therefore dream about issues and experiences which he or she was unable to completely feel at peace with on a conscious level during the day.

Does your child have repetitive dreams?

Just like an adult, a child dreams at night about experiences both enjoyable and painful that happened during the day. If your child fears separation or fears starting school or experienced something unpleasant, these may all find expression in dreams. This can feel very disturbing for your child, especially since our dreams can feel so real.

The interpretation of your dreams or your child’s dreams may be complicated and subject to much conjecture. I would however recommend keeping it simple. Let’s remember that often the meaning of a dream may simply be more about what, in general, is happening or about the events which happened during the previous day. Of course some images seen in dreams are just simply there because that face or picture was seen the previous day and has little real importance. I’m sure you may have watched a film or spoken to a friend and found that they then, as if by magic, appeared in a dream that evening. If your child is having nightmares, it is the particular disturbing scene or image that is important. If you feel strong emotions during a dream, whether those emotions are positive or negative, these emotions point to where you need to be looking for answers.

Any child having nightmares or disturbed sleep is right now an unhappy child in some way, simple as that. This might be due to something that will pass quickly or may be due to an ongoing stress. Nightmares can feel disturbing since the dreamer feels powerless to do anything about it and feels like it is something external, happening to them and not under their control. Ensure you give your child reassurance that it was just a dream and not real. Ask also about how your child is doing and feeling. How are they feeling about school, friends and home?