Nightmares aren’t just for adults, although it may seem strange that a child who wasn’t afraid before bed suddenly becomes afraid of things like the dark, monsters under the bed, or sleeping alone when is something older. But it makes a lot of sense from a development and evolution point of view.
School-age children know how to differentiate reality from fantasy but they live a lot of their imagination, an imagination that is completely booming at school age. In addition, at these ages children usually have greater access to programs and movies, books, magazines… so a child can receive more scary messages without anyone moderating them.
The world of kids is much bigger than when they were younger and while it’s exciting and fun during the day, it can be quite scary at night.
Fear at night
Fear it can appear at night: being afraid of the dark, of separation from parents, of noise, of bad people, of thieves… it is a normal phase of development that occurs longer than parents expect, since that a child can have fears until he is 9 years old. School-age children can understand that there are things in the world that can harm them and that their parents can’t always protect them.
At this time, fears also appear that something bad can happen to parents. Just like an adult, a child between 5 and 8 years old may have problems “disconnecting” the mind before resting. Children may complain of a frightening noise at night, even though they’re really just scared by a war or shooting they’ve seen on the news or that their classmates have been talking about.
Parents, in the first 10 years of a child’s life, should help them understand the difference between real danger – a stranger approaching or bad habits like smoking – and what may be disturbing but it doesn’t present an immediate personal threat – such as a war on the other side of the world.
Are my child’s nightmares normal?
If you’ve done everything you can to reassure your child and he continues to have fearful behaviors, his fears may have crossed line of normal development and have progressed to a phobia or anxiety problem, something you may need a little help dealing with.
There may be signs to help you know that it is a phobia such as repeated crying that lasts from a few seconds to a form of fear of great proportions. For example, your child may tell you that he is afraid of the dark or that you turn on the lights in the whole house so that burglars do not enter.
Night fears or persistent nightmares can be the result of an event that has disturbed or caused trauma at home, at school or in another context. Children up to 12 years old are aware of and vulnerable to the stress that exists in the face of a divorce, the death of a relative, when a father or mother loses their job, when they change teachers, when an act of violence occurs or when there is a natural disaster. Needless to say, these fears and nightmares can also be caused by another person being physically or emotionally abused and becoming ‘the monster in the room.’
If your child doesn’t want to sleep because he has afraid or because you don’t want to have nightmares, you may actually be afraid and there may be an underlying, emotional cause that needs to be addressed. A health professional such as your doctor can recommend a therapist to treat this case.