Difference Between Parents’ Perception and Their Child’s About Nightmares

The frequency of children affected by nightmares is estimated to be 5 percent. Nightmares not only disturb the sleep but also affect daytime activities. The current study examined the difference between parental perception of nightmares in their children and children’s own perception of the nightmares. The results showed that parents underestimate the frequency and severity of nightmares, perhaps because children do not communicate about the nightmares or about their daytime symptoms. Headaches in children are usually not noted by the parents. Further research may explain this underestimation and the discrepancy between the parents’ and children’s perception of the nightmares.

Nightmares are dreams associated with strong negative emotions. Children often suffer from nightmares, wake up from their sleep and vividly recall these dreams afterwards. The quality of sleep is affected by nightmares. Nightmares are common during childhood; 70 to 90 percent of young adults report that they had experienced nightmares at some time during their childhood. Many factors like genetic disposition, personality trait, anxiety, stress and trauma are considered to be responsible for the nightmares. But there is a difference between how parents report the nightmares of their children and the children’s own perception of them. The present study investigated the relationship between daytime symptoms and nightmare frequency in school-aged children in the city of Cologne.

* In this study, 8,599 children in fourth grade and 4,834 parents responded to a sleep questionnaire.
* The sleep questionnaire for children had 28 items, while parental questionnaire had 33 items. The responses to questions were coded as 1 = not present, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often.
* Teachers distributed the information, written consent forms and the questionnaires to the children. The child-specific questionnaires were completed by the children.
* Parents separately completed their questionnaires at home and both the questionnaires of parents and children were returned to the teacher.

* About 2.3 percent of the parents indicated that their children often had nightmares, but the results showed that 3.5 percent of the children indicated as suffering from nightmares.
* About 26.9 percent of the parents said that their children sometimes had nightmares, but 40 percent of the children indicated that they sometimes had nightmares.
* The nightmares occurred slightly more often in girls than in boys.
* The results showed that problems of falling asleep, problems of maintaining sleep pattern, sleepwalking and night terrors were significantly associated with the occurrence of nightmares.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The estimates of nightmare frequency and symptoms experienced by a child during daytime may be faulty. Sophisticated methods such as a sleep diary or interview would be more objective than responses to a single questionnaire as used in this study. Finding association between factors such as fantasy proneness, imaginative capacity, everyday stress and nightmares could be the theme of further research.

Nightmares are bad dreams that disturb children’s sleep. This study found out that parents underestimate the nightmare frequency in their children, as compared to self reports obtained from the children. The study was conducted in fourth graders and children in this age group often do not talk about their nightmares. So this might be a reason for the underestimation by parents. The nightmares are also linked to symptoms experienced by a child during the daytime. The highest correlation was found for emotional problems such as experiencing headaches, worries, anxieties and being unhappy and nervous. Perhaps parents should pay more attention to these symptoms in children and ask them about the nightmares. Further research might help in finding the cause of the discrepancies between children’s and parents’ perceptions about nightmares.

For More Information:
Factors Affecting Nightmares in Children: Parent’s versus Children’s Ratings
Publication Journal: European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, June 2008
By Michael Schredl; Leonie Fricke-Oerkermann; Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany; University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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