Friday, November 30, 2012
Night terrors are much less common than nightmares and are often mistaken for bad dreams, although the two experiences are quite different (Box, right). The name ‘‘night terrors’’ is somewhat misleading, since the child will not always be terrify. He may scream or thrash about, but he may also talk quite calmly, sleepwalk or just stare into space. Parents frequently describe their child as looking possessed during such as episode. Because night terrors occur in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep, the youngster never fully wakes up even if he becomes very agitated.
Night terrors tend to run in families. Researches believe that they are related to quirks in a child’s awakening mechanism: Instead of shifting smoothly from deepest non-REM sleep to the dream state of REM, the child partially rouses. But night terrors do happen more often when a youngster is very tried, so their occurrence can also tell you that your child needs more sleep.
One of the real problems in helping a child who is having night terrors is that it is not always obvious just what is happening. You may be groggy yourself and assume that the youngster is simply distraught from a nightmare. Keep in mind that night terrors most often occur in the first four hours of bedtime, when the child is most tried and spends more time in the deeper stages of sleep. Nightmares generally occur in the latter half of the sleep period, especially in the hours near dawn when REM sleep prevails.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Nightmares are more commonly experienced by children from three to six years of age. Fevers and certain types of medication sometimes provoke scary dreams, but in most cases nightmares are brought on by the fears and other normal emotional concerns that arise from the developmental changes of early childhood. For example, a three year-old child struggling with new found feelings of anger and aggression may project these negative feelings as frightening imaginary monsters that threaten him in dreams. Certain stressful experiences can cause daytime feelings of jealousy and rebellion that may surface during sleep as nightmares. A youngster who has a new brother or sister may find that his hostile feelings toward the baby are turned in upon himself in his dreams.
He may envision beings chased by someone big and threatening, or being left alone by the side of a desolate highway. These nightmares seem utterly real to children and often cause them to awake in a panic. It rarely will soothe a child to tell her that a nightmare was not real or that it was only a dream. Real or not, it genuinely frightened your child, and she needs your sympathy and support. The best thing you can do is to hold her close and talk to her in a calm, reassuring tone of voice. Let the youngster know that you will always take care of her and protect her. Stay with her if she is afraid to go to sleep. It is not wise to make a habit of lying down with the child or taking her to your bed. But sometimes a story, favorite toy or simply a night light will help the youngster get back to sleep.
With older children, it sometimes helps to talk about the dream the day after. You might encourage a five or six year old child to act out the drama and to think of ways to overcome the things that frightened her. Though this may not alleviate the specific fear that caused the bad dream, it may reduce the child’s anxiety about nightmares.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Early dreams involve very little dramatic or social interaction, and the settings are vague and nondescript. But as children reach the age of five or six, their dreams become more sophisticated, in parallel with their mental development. Story lines grow more complex and are less influenced by the child’s bodily states. Now when a child dreams about food, the eating takes place in a social context. Animals still appear frequently – sometimes dressing and behaving as people – but family members are portrayed as well, and there is increased interaction between the characters in a child’s dreams. The faces of strangers, sometimes frightening ones, may also appear in the dreams of a five-year-old. Researchers believe that these may simply be failed attempts at constructing more familiar characters. Recreation and play are dominant themes, and settings are more specific: Buildings and landscapes that are a part of the child’s waking life now appear in dreams.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Much remains to be understood about children’s dreams. In fact, no one knows for sure whether infants and very young children really have dreams at all, since children under the age of two do not have sufficient language skills to describe such experiences. Sings that infants experience REM sleep are obvious. They twitch their eyes, kick their feet, such, smile and grimace in slumber. Some experts argue that this is not necessarily proof of dreaming. They speculate that the child’s brain, like a computer running a program, is simply rehearsing reflexes for actions like sucking, smiling or moving the arms and legs. Others believe that the REM sleep activities are indeed physical reactions to primitive dreams about sensory experiences.
What is clear is that when a child first begins dreaming, bits and pieces of recollected dream images lap over into her daytime consciousness and become mixed up with real experiences. Consequently, your preschooler may ask questions about unfamiliar people and events that you cannot possibly answer, because they refer to things that took place in her dreams. These seemingly nonsensical questions may be the first clue parents have that their child has indeed begun to dream.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
While the great majority of a youngster’s dream images are pleasant or at least neutral in feeling, it is perfectly natural for him to suffer an occasional nightmare whenever the normal stresses of growing up spill over from his waking hours. It is these few unpleasant experiences-scary dreams of monsters and other threats-that will usually demand your attention in the middle of the night.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
You can help your child to be less fearful generally by encouraging him to be as independent as his age and his abilities allow. It is only natural to want to protect your youngster against potential danger and frightening situations, but keep in mind that children need opportunities to develop a sense of competence and self-reliance. Meeting their fears head on gives them that kind of opportunity. Eventually, experience is the child’s greatest weapon against fear. He learns that though his parents leave him, or a jackhammer startles him, or shadows play on his bedroom wall, in the end nothing bad really happens to him at all.