Monsters and Nightmares

Last night I checked out the third installment of the Men in Black franchise, and while I personally enjoyed it, one thing stuck out for me; it seems a lot more gory than the first and second movies. There were several children in the cinema and that made me consider writing about monsters (or in this case, aliens) and children’s nightmares.

Dreams and nightmares serve to help people process what is going on in their lives. Nightmares can result from a reaction to trauma (e.g. witnessing an accident, abuse, etc.), side effect of medication,  exposure to scary material (movies, stories, etc.), or have no apparent cause.

Researchers have found that children with more frequent nightmares tend to generally be anxious. Researchers have also determined that children as young as  three can distinguish between real and imaginary (fantasy), however, just because children know a fantasy object isn’t present, they may think that it could be present. Taking the Men in Black movie for instance, a young child may theoretically know that the bad guy isn’t real, but may believe he could be, and thus could hurt him as he hurt others in the movie, resulting in experiencing fear.

Video- Children: Fantasy from Reality

Children may also experience night terrors, which differ from nightmares. In night terrors, the child does not remember the dream. You can learn more about night terrors here.

What you can do:

  • Set a regular bedtime and ensure your child gets adequate sleep. Chronic fatigue can result in sleep disturbances.
  • Create a calm, comforting, secure environment at night (e.g. a night light in the room, snuggles from you, a favorite stuffed animal).
  • When reading a scary story, watching a movie or television show, you can point out that the characters are real people who are pretending. Also distinguish between real people and monsters/aliens. Generally, avoid these stories/shows before bedtime.
  • Remind the child that dreams are not real and the content of their nightmares will not hurt them.
  • Consult with a doctor or psychologist if the frequency of the nightmares increase, the child’s fears disrupt daytime activity, or the nightmares are distressing and you suspect psychological issues may be involved.

For Parents:
Your Toddler’s Nightmares

Book: Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence

For Children: Nightmares

Men in Black 3 is rated PG-13.


About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Anxiety, Fantasy, Parenting, Sleep, Television, Trauma and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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