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8 Common Childhood Nightmares & What They Mean, According To Experts

Dreams can reveal a lot about the state of our psyche. Specific thoughts manifest into "naked in front of the class" dreams, and certain anxieties can result in night terrors of the especially unsettling variety. For children, it can be especially terrifying to wake up in a cold sweat, heart pounding, unsure of what's real and what isn't. So, as a parent, it pays to know about the common childhood nightmares and what they mean. While you can't keep your child from having nightmares, you can interpret your little one's fears and, hopefully, assist your child in overcoming them.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, 10 to 50 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 6 have nightmares "significant enough to disturb their parents." DreamDictionary.Org, which offers an interactive dream forum for members to analyze their dreams, defines a nightmare as "a dream that occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that results in feelings of strong terror, fear, distress and extreme anxiety." A night terror, on the other hand, is when someone "physically acts out in their sleep by screaming, thrashing, or even crying." And while the American Sleep Association (ASA), an organization dedicated to increasing awareness about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep disorders, reports that 80-90 percent of the population experiences nightmares at some point in their lives, children are more prone to them than adults. In fact, according to the ASA, a child has one or more scary dreams a week.

As most parents will tell you, sleep disturbances can wreak havoc on everyone in the house. So with that in mind, and because us parents are exhausted enough, here are some of the more common nightmares your child may experience and what they could mean:

Scary Animals

Psychology Today suggests that nightmares about animals may signify an ode to the instincts your child has left behind. "What happens when we neglect, suppress, or otherwise disavow our instincts? They either turn against us — and can be seen as pursuing us in our dreams — or we act them out unconsciously by doing what we feel is taboo — doing in dreams what we won't allow ourselves to do in waking.", on the other hands, states that this specific type of dream can also be that the animals is reflecting a trait back to your child that he or she has during the daytime.

Monsters Or Ghosts

When your child dreams about a scary monster or ghost, it might symbolize people they're intimidated by, or a negative experience they're continuing to re-live in their sleep. Dream expert Lauri Quinn Lowenberg tells the website, "Monsters in a child's dream will be the embodiment of what they fear most, or what's upsetting them at the time in real life."

Toys Coming To Life

Michael Vigo, creator of Dream Moods, tells, "When a favorite toy turns into a demonic being, or becomes larger than life, it is an indication that the child is trying to cope or understand a similar waking situation where someone they know suddenly acts out of character." It's an indication your child may be dealing with fear or confusion perpetuated by someone they trust, and dreaming is the only way their mind is able to cope.

Bugs Crawling On Them

Cynthia Richmond, author of Dream Power, tells HuffPost that each bug has it's own meaning, adding the importance of dissecting what's happening with the bug in the dream. It's a sign that something's bothering your child, or stressing them out, and they may feel insecure because of it. Dr. Barbara Condron tells that, "Nightmares of bugs and spiders point to the development of habits that your child is resisting."

Being Chased

If your child tells you're they're constantly being chased in a nightmare, they might having trouble reaching a particular goal when they're awake. Psychologist and dream specialist Ian Wallace tells The Independent, "In your waking life you’re in pursuit of a goal. It’s usually nightmarish — a gang running after you and you can’t get away — and it means there’s something you’re pursuing in real life and you’re facing some frustrations and can’t work out how to attain it.” With children it may come down to a stressful situation they can't escape, such as a bad day at school or being in the middle of an adult argument, or frustration about potty training, figuring out a specific toy, or tackling something at the playground.

Being Left Alone

Children need safety and security, and they rely on you to make sure those needs are met. If they're about to spend a night away, separation anxiety can manifest through nightmares, and it's a rather typical coping mechanism. Other sources say this particular dream may also relate to your child's fear of inadequacy.


The most common nightmare that children, and adults, experience is one of falling. A 2016 survey by AmeriSleep revelaed that nightmares about falling could have to do less with your subconscious and more with your nervous system. The research suggest that when your nervous system is done for the day, and your body's completely relaxed, your mind interprets the feelings as a fall.

Being Made Fun Of Or Bullied

A 2014 study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that 36 percent of children with sleep disturbances, or nightmares, have been bullied. If your child is dreaming of being bullied, it can indicate that your child doesn't know how to ask for help with something that's bothering them, they have repressed rage, or someone is holding them back from achieving a goal and they aren't sure how to take a stand.

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