A recent study confirms what has been known about nightmares in children for quite some time: they’re pretty normal.
Writing in the medical journal “American Family Physician,” Dr. J. F. Pagel reports that nightmares affect between 20-39% of all children between the ages of 5 and 12. Night terrors, a rarer condition often mistaken for nightmares in children, affects between 1-4% of the same age group.
Neither condition, argues Dr. Patel, is particularly worrisome. Dr. Patel’s report coincides with the findings of other prominent dream researchers, most notably Dr. Ernest Hartmann, author of the 1998 book, Dreams and Nightmares: The New Theory on the Origin and Meaning of Dreams.. In Dreams and Nightmares, Dr. Hartmann argues that nightmares in young children, with their special emphasis on monsters, frequently represent the unknown, and the perils of navigating a world full of big powerful people (adults), as seen from a child’s perspective.
Parents often worry that nightmares and night terrors reflect emotional distress, but this rarely is the case, says Pagel. He suggests the only time a doctor’s intervention might be necessary is if the nightmares affect a child’s ability to function during waking hours. Barring that, says Pagel, “Reassurance and support are often the only therapy required because these disorders rarely, if ever, reflect underlying illness and usually disappear with maturity.”
That’s good news for all of us!
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