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Dr. Clatch Speaks On: Nightmares

Why do some preschoolers start having such terrible nightmares? Are parents doing something wrong to make the nightmares happen? What should parents do?

As we all know, nightmares happen throughout life, but they are most frequent between the ages of 3 and 6. The reason that they become so prevalent at this time is that this is when children’s imaginations are at their heights. When children are younger than 3, they do not yet have a developed imagination. When they are older than 6, they begin to think more rationally than before so that imagination is not quite as dominant in their thinking.

Knowing that nightmares are normal, is it reasonable to assume that parents are not doing anything wrong? That depends. Studies indicate that violent and frightening television does contribute to nightmares. Therefore, parents should not expose young children to this type of programming. Otherwise, nightmares are fairly natural and normal.

What can parents do to reduce nightmares? Parents can monitor television closely. They can also explore their children’s everyday irrational fears with their children. When they talk with their children, they may not be able to convince them that the fears are not real, but they can react by honoring their children’s feelings while not giving too much attention to the fears. Otherwise, parents just need to be patient and nurturing and make sure that their children have the emotional support they need during their waking hours. The nightmares will subside over time.

Dr. Michael Clatch, Psy. D
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