Monsters Under the Bed? What Your Kids' Nightmares Really Mean

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Stacey Stapleton on Jan 1, 2010 at 11:59AM

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a Stacey Stapleton on Mar 10, 2011 at 1:31AM

What It Means: Around the age of 5 or 6, children become more aware that the world isn't always a warm, fuzzy place. As the concept sinks in, your kid may begin dreaming about “robbers” or “bad guys” breaking into the house. You may notice she wants to check that the doors and windows are locked before bedtime.

What You Can Do: Reassure your child that she’s safe and that you will protect her. Detail all the concrete reason your home is secure: The door’s locked door; you live in a safe neighborhood; the alarm system is set; or the doorman or security guard are watching over the apartment. Experts also advise locking up at night together, so your child can see that everything is safe and sound with her own eyes. "You can also ask your child why she was thinking about someone breaking in, did she see it in a movie or hear about it on TV?" suggests Dr. Patrick Kelly, a child psychiatrist and Director of the Child and Adolescent Day Hospital at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. "If you can help your child identify where the nightmare came from, she'll see it isn’t real and be comforted."

Kelly also suggests loosely monitoring television habits, especially for kids younger than 13. "Limit your child’s exposure to violent or frightening images, even within the context of news programs or otherwise humorous movies," he explains, "since these images make an impression on young minds and often lead to nightmares and fearfulness."

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