I learned recently about the difference between a
nightmare and a night terror, as I put together a workshop on “Anxieties and Fears in Children”. One out of every four children between the ages of 3 and 8 experience either night terrors or night‑mares. Both of these
situations can be unnerving, but are generally short‑lived.
terrors generally occur within an hour of falling asleep. The child awakens suddenly from a state of deep sleep
in a state of panic. He or she may scream, sit up in bed, breathe quickly, and stare “glassy eyed.” The child also may seem confused, disoriented, and incoherent. Each episode can
last from 5 to 30 minutes. A child who experiences night terrors is not aware of any scary thoughts or dreams and is usually able to go back to sleep quickly. In the morning, he or she
usually doesn’t remember waking at all. Night terrors may occur for several years. Generally they go away with time and are not an indication of any underlying emotional
Nightmares generally occur in the early morning hours. Children who
experience nightmares can often recall the vivid details of their scary dream and may have difficulty going back to sleep. Nightmares will often center on a specific problem or life event that
is troubling the child. Parents can help by remaining calm and hold the child close and talk in a soft soothing voice to comfort and reassure the child. If possible, the parent or teacher
should stay close by until he or she falls asleep. Calm, consistent handling of nightmares or terrors will help the child feel safe and secure.