Creativity Magazine

Nightmares, Fantasy and Reality

By Maliasa

Nightmares, Fantasy and Reality
Monsters, dragons, and ghosts– many children experience some sort of nightmares. Most children grow out of their fear of the dark and they learn to cope with their nightmares. Nightmare can be described as dreams with strong negative emotions. The emotions are so strong that the child wakes up.
Children between the age of five and ten may be mostly likely to suffer from nightmares. Then most children stop suffering from these emotional dreams. But some children do not and they continue to suffer from nightly torments. Distinguishing between what is real and unreal is a part of growing up. At what age does a child push the fantasy world aside and become ready to deal with the real world?Nightmares occur during REM sleep and they are different from night terrors. A child having a night terror may scream and may not recognize you when you approach him.
Children may make a distinction between fantasy and the real world at an early age. But what about children who suffers from nightmares? Do they have problems distinguishing between fantasy and the real world? 
Four to six -year-olds who experienced severe nighttime fears were compared with children without such fears. The children and their parents were interviewed individually. A story was read to the children as an introduction to talk about their fears. The parents were asked about the content as well as how frequent their children nightmares were. The children rated their fears using a “Koala Fear Questionnaire”. They rated their fear of scary pictures on a scale of Koala bears depicting different levels of fear. They were also asked to decide if images of were imaginary or if they could be seen in real life. The images were of real or mythical begins. The imagery images could be of a fairy or a TV figure. The children, who experienced nightmares and fears, had more difficulties separating fact from fiction. They may confuse fantasy or reality. There are several similarities to imaginary friends and this blog post may provide some more insight into fantasy and reality.
The fantasy-reality confusion that causes nighttime fears is part of the solution to help children overcome their fear. The link to imaginary can be used in a positive way to support the child.
Avi Sadeh says, “We send children mixed signals by telling them that monsters aren’t real while we tell them stories about the tooth fairy.”
Telling a child that the monster or bogeyman is not real may not be a helpful approach. It may be better to tell a child to imagine that the monster is not a threat. Writing a letter to the monster offering friendship is one way of helping a child to overcome their fear. Reading books where threatening characters turn out to be friendly or drawing the nightmares. Another way is to introduce a “huggy puppy” that the child has to take care of during the night to make sure that the puppy is not sad.
Go here to read about young children and nightmares. Research: Tamar Zisenwine, Michal Kaplan, Jonathan Kushnir, Avi SadehNighttime Fears and Fantasy Reality Differentiation in Preschool ChildrenChild Psychiatry & Human Development, 2012
Photo "Baby Sleeping On Mother S Shoulder" by Stuart Miles

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