It is estimated that approximately 20 to 30% of children suffer from significant sleep problems and night time fears. Sleep problems can include nightmares and in some cases even night terrors. Nightmares are more common than night terrors and can usually be dealt with by informed parents.
Nightmares most commonly occur in children from ages three through six, but can occur with older or younger children as well. Suggestions for reducing nightmares include monitoring and restricting violent TV or movies with younger children, especially just before bedtime. While not always the blame, TV and movies certainly play a part in many children's nightmares.
When a child wakes from a nightmare and screams or cries out, parents should go to the child as quickly as possible. It is important to stay with the child until he or she settles down and falls back to sleep. Reading a short book or just talking to them can often help the child calm down and go back to sleep. Parents should try to stay calm themselves, no matter how late it is or how tired they are. If mom or dad is upset and tense, this will only make matters worse for the child.
The next day it can also be helpful to talk about the nightmare in detail. Encourage the child to talk about it only if they want to and don't pressure them. If they are willing, talk about the nightmare and try to identify what it was that frightened them. Help them conquer their fears as they talk about the nightmare. In the case of a "monster," for example, parents can encourage the child to draw the monster and then color on it or do something to make it look silly. Often this is enough to take the power from the monster and alleviate this specific nightmare.
As always, I welcome comments and feedback. I would also be interested in hearing about other things that parents have tried to reduce their own children's nightmares.