Yes, your child is dreaming lovely dreams but also having scary nightmares. They may be all smiles, dreaming of strawberry ice cream, and then may wake up horrified after seeing a giant spider chasing them. From what age can we talk about children having dreams and nightmares?
We can’t speak of a true dream or upsetting nightmare until they’re between 18 months and a year old. Starting at that stage, your child sleeps for a long time without waking up; this aids them in seeing dreams or nightmares. They’re discovering new things every day and storing them in their memory, then seeing them again later in their sleep.
Dream activity begins when a child starts speaking, especially as their feelings develop and they become able to feel love, fear, and hatred.
The dreams are very simple and transparent at two years old, and directly relate to the events of the day. Their dreams also only have one scene. For example, if a child wants a plastic ball, they’ll dream about the ball. And if you gave them a piece of chocolate cake and they enjoyed it, they’ll dream that you fed them a whole cake.
The older the children, the more their psychological lives develop and their dreams become more complex and varied. In turn, nightmares develop from very simple to more complex, and from sound to image, from the sounds of slamming doors and the howling wind to the characters your child meets in real life and the ones they see in animated movies, like the evil wolf or the beast.
The nightmare is upsetting to your child and even more upsetting to you, because you don’t know how to protect them. There’s no need to worry, though; nightmares are important for helping your child face their fears.
Don’t tease your child if they come to you at night crying and convinced that there’s a wolf hiding in the closet. Turn on the light and open the closet to assure them that there’s no danger there, and then take them back to bed and reassure them that you’ll stay with them until they fall asleep. It’s okay to leave the door to their room open with a small light on inside.