Nightmares, night terrors, and bad dreams occur in children who may be restless, emotionally upset, neurotic, or suffering from some mild illness. Many of these episodes represent dreams of anxiety, psychic conflict, and fears. They may reflect a frightening or traumatic situation which the child has experienced during the day. He may relive these fearful experiences at night and wake with fears and anxiety. Sometimes frightening things seen on television or in movies may distress the child and he will dream about them. They may represent fear resulting from a disturbed relationship with or between the parents. They may also represent displacements of anxiety in the form of phobic fears.
During an attack of night terrors, the child suddenly wakes up, cries out or screams, trembling and perspiring. He may be incoherent and not understand what has frightened him. He may or may not remember the occurrence in the morning.
The immediate treatment of a frightening dream is to try to reassure the child, comfort him, and try to get him back to sleep. If the child is old enough to comprehend, he can be told it was “only a bad dream.” Since many children dream about frightening experiences (such as watching horror shows), stimulating television or movie programs should be avoided by these sensitive children. Any child who persistently has nightmares or night terrors should be evaluated by a psychiatrist to determine whether there is an emotional disorder present. A complete psychological and psychiatric examination is often required.