I am a regular reader of your column and think you give fantastic advice. I am concerned about my 4 1/2 year old's nightmares. She'll go a few weeks without having any but then have 3-4 in a week, sometimes back-to-back nights. She'll be hysterical but still sleeping and it can be hard to settle her down.
Could these be caused by anxiety? I feel as though her nightmares are my fault as I can lose my patience easily. I do not stay upset and while I am able to play, laugh, and tell my girls how much I love them, I am also embarrassed to write that I think I yell more than the average parent. I've been working on this and getting better but I am not always successful in the heat of the moment.
Could these nightmares be because she is scared of me? If so, is it possible to un-do the damage that has already been done?
From: Concerned, Central MA
Meltz: I'm inclined to think these are night terrors, not nightmares...
Rosen: A really good way to distinguish between the two is when they happen in the night. Night terrors happen in the first third of the night, nightmares in the last half.
Meltz: With night terrors, a child is usually crying but not seeming to be awake....?
Rosen: Yes, there's inconsolable crying that is disconnected from what’s going on around her and she remembers nothing about it the next day. It's very typical for this age. With nightmares, a child will awaken from the dream and talk about it and often remember details the next day.
Meltz: Causes of night terrors?
Rosen: Night terrors can be triggered by many things: Not getting enough sleep; falling asleep in one location and being transferred to another; an irregular sleep schedule; certain medications; obstructed sleep apnea.
Rosen: Yes, it is possible anxiety could provoke night terrors. So if there is unresolved conflict – if there was a bad scene before bedtime, yes, it could be a trigger. But more likely, that would play out in bad dream, not night terrors and these details from this mom sound more like night terrors.
Meltz: What about her question that she's the cause?
Rosen: I see that as more of this mother's lack of confidence in her parenting [skills]. I really hate for her to beat herself up over this. It just seems wrong. I don’t want to give any impression this is her fault. But if that is her concern, what she can do is spend time with the child before she settles her into bed to make sure she diffuses any tension that has built up, including tension between them.
Meltz: This mom is talking about yelling. Serious yelling. There are other strategies besides yelling…..
Rosen: Yes. She's wondering if the child could be fearful of her because of yelling.
I don’t think so. [Again, I think] that speaks more to the mother’s lack of confidence. This could be happening independently of anything the mother is doing. I hate for this woman to think she’s the cause. That’s just wrong.
Meltz: On the other hand, I don't want to ignore that this mom could be saying that she has problems managing her anger, and that could affect her relationship with her daughter.
Rosen: When yelling is a pattern, it's never a good thing.
[Note: The links are my choices, not Dr. Rosen's]
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