She says it's like she's a different person in her dreams, cruel and almost sociopath, and the people she loves in real life are out to get her, and to escape she has to kill all of them (and sometimes she gets killed herself).

This happens almost every night. In real life she's a popular, very kind, very emotionally stable girl who is normal except that she is extremely intelligent and has a slightly dark sense of humor, not like a disturbed kid, but rather like a burgeoning shock comic.

Also, the most violent movie she's seen is the Hunger Games, which I don't think is violent enough to cause nightmares like this. Is this something I should be worried about, or do lots of children go through recurring nightmares?

I'm worried killing people night after night could be very traumatizing, especially for a child. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

  • Could you add some information about your kid's age, and how long this has been going on?
    – Ida
    Aug 27, 2015 at 21:12
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    @Ida She's eleven years old, and its been going on for about half a year now. Aug 27, 2015 at 22:26
  • Recurring nightmares and disturbing dreams could be due to some deep-seated emotional issue. Or not. Because nightmares can also be triggered by medications, dietary changes, changes in sleep patterns, listening to music while falling asleep, and more. It's possible she read a story or saw something that disturbed her, and the dreams are just her working through those feelings.
    – barbecue
    Sep 2, 2015 at 0:11
  • There's another possibility. While it's not the most likely, it could be that she's exaggerating the nightmares, using them as a way to get sympathy, or maybe as an excuse for being tired when she's really staying up late reading, playing games, talking on the phone, or something. Of course you as the parent would have a better idea about this, but I'm just mentioning it because it's a genuine possibility that nobody else has mentioned.
    – barbecue
    Sep 2, 2015 at 0:15

5 Answers 5


My best suggestion is that it's time to see a good adolescent counselor.

Nightmares are normally more common (or at least, more memorable and reported) than "pleasant" dreams, and vivid dreams often have a recurring theme. But if this were happening to my child, there's nothing on this green earth that would keep me from giving her the opportunity to discuss this with someone who could not only reassure her, but possibly treat her as well.

Treatment of chronic nightmares in adjudicated adolescent girls in a residential facility
Do Nightmares and Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Childhood and Adolescence have a Common Genetic Origin?
Sleep-Related Problems Among Children and Adolescents With Anxiety Disorders
Dream Recall Frequency and Unusual Dream Experiences in Early Adolescence: Longitudinal Links to Behavior Problems


The most important thing to do is reassure her that even though this is unpleasant, and it is important it doesn't mean that it is significant (as in something to get worried about). Maybe you could find some books on dreams (vet them beforehand to make sure they will calm her fears, not aggravate them).

If she is "traumatized" by the dreams it will probably be for one of two reasons. The first is that she will get the idea that something is wrong with her or she is a bad person for having them. You can help prevent that by making it clear that although you are sorry if it is unpleasant for her, you don't think there's anything wrong with her.

I had a lot of nightmares as a child and worst part of them was the emotional trauma. I was terrified. Sometimes I was afraid to go to sleep. How does your daughter feel in these dreams? Sometimes you will have dreams where terrible or wrong things happen but while you are dreaming they seem quite normal. It is only when you wake up that you find yourself distressed by what you were dreaming.

If the dreams make her experience emotional fear, that's a different set of dynamics, and you should probably think about taking it to a professional. She may have fears going on in the back of her brain that even she doesn't realize she's having, and a counselor may be able to help her focus on the real issues. As an adult I can look back and see what I was really afraid of as a child, and it had little to do with the actual content of my dreams. My dreams were full of things that symbolized what I was afraid of, but didn't resemble them.

If nothing else, the dreams are probably affecting her sleep and that can cause significant health problems. They've gone on for long enough that yes, you should find a psychologist who can help.

  • I think the most disturbing thing for her is that she feels cruel and almost sociopathic in her dreams, when she is the opposite in real life. My only problem with going to a professional is that I'm concerned that could signal to her that she's "crazy" or abnormal, which of course she isn't. But in your experience, couldn't the awareness of the fact that you are seeing a psychologist, especially as a child, damage your self-esteem in that way? Aug 27, 2015 at 18:30
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    @FreddyWorthing I think that depends somewhat on presentation and cultural perceptions -- if most people around you say therapists are only for crazy people, then it can be embarrassing to present the idea. However, if the option can be presented in a positive fashion it may be better received. When discussing the possibility of therapy with my son, I presented the advantages (would you like to talk to somebody non-judgmental about what's bothering you) before the buzzwords of "therapist" or "psychologist".
    – Acire
    Aug 27, 2015 at 19:04
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    I never got professional help as a child and I'm the worse off for it, IMO. When I was growing up only "crazy people" went to "shrinks". Now I think we are much more accepting. If something gets off-track with your body you go to a doctor of the body. If something goes off-track with your thoughts, you see a doctor or the mind. Once she understands what the dream means she will understand that there is nothing wrong with her. Her mind is just trying to tell her something and she needs someone to help her understand its language. Aug 28, 2015 at 19:00
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    If your child had a physical health problem you would seek help. Why do you stigmatise mental health problems by keeping it hidden and not getting help? Of course she's going to pick up the shame you project. Most of the stuff we see doctors about is abnormal - that's why we seek help. "Is it affecting your day to day life?" It sounds like it's starting to affect her day to day life, if only mildly.
    – DanBeale
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:47

Also, the most violent movie she's seen is the Hunger Games, which I don't think is violent enough to cause nightmares like this.

A major part of this movie is about killing or being forced to kill others - even friends. One big storyline also is that characters have to witness their homes and families being wiped out, if I remember it correctly. I'd suggest to talk with her about this movie and help her to handle these impressions. And maybe don't watch such violent stuff at this age at all, no matter what film rating systems say.


DISCLAIMER: I'm not a mental health professional, or someone with any formal training in the field. The below is my opinion and not a substitute for work with a mental health professional.

It may help your daughter to realize her dreams are symbolic --they in no way mean that she's a latent killer.

Dreams are rarely literal, but they can have significant psychological meaning. The stresses of adolescence often lead to an increase in disturbing dreams. There are a set of methods collectively called dreamwork that can help the dreamer come to terms with the issues being explored in the dreams. These include keeping a dream journal, drawing pictures of the dreams, and visualizing new versions of the dream while awake, including trying out different actions or writing different endings. I had horrible nightmares around the same age, and these techniques helped me out a lot.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but focusing on your bad dreams can actually make them less frequent. If your subconscious is trying to tell you a message, you typically do better by listening to it than by trying to ignore it or suppress it.


Before jumping the gun on taking her to a therapist, you need to evaluate her emotional ability first.

Everyone has bad dreams, especially young children. It's part of growing up.

Now, while she's having dreams about killing people she knows, that's not necessarily something you should start paying a counselor to solve. A lot of these issues can be solved by talking to the kid themselves. Six months is a relatively short period of time for recurring nightmares, which are usually caused by some aspect of the persons current life.

It's important to make sure they understand the difference between reality and their dreams, which I'm assuming she does since she is 11.

It's also important to not make the child feel as if something is wrong with them. Taking them to see someone "special" can do more harm than good. As someone who had similar experiences, being forced to take medication and see a doctor every week can be very depressing and debilitating. Children at school-age are very susceptible to peer-pressures and teasing, which can cause self-image damage that only further deepens their issues, and feeling "wrong" amplifies this.

Since her behavior hasn't changed, there doesn't seem to be an issue. In my personal opinion, the only thing you should do is reaffirm your child that it's alright, it's "just a phase," or some other form of comfort. A child's trust and a parent's word can go a long way. However, keep an eye on their behavior and if anything really out-of-character happens, then reconsider.

As a side note, I would like to mention that many children are heavily influenced by their parents, even going so far as to have mini placebo-like effects. Perhaps you could consider some form of "solution" that you had as a kid that helped the exact same problem, such as something silly like sleeping with a teddy bear. It is lying, however, the fact that the child's parent is saying it will work can be a powerful 'fix' for the child who believes it.

I remember my own grandfather told me that if you take the stem out of an apple it's perfect to eat, and so naturally, being 8, I did that for every apple I ever ate.

  • Sources would be nice. They are always welcome for: providing support for what you recommend, and allowing people to do further reading on you presented viewpoint. Sep 1, 2015 at 18:18
  • I like this answer, except for the first sentence. The part about the parental solution is especially good IMO.
    – barbecue
    Sep 2, 2015 at 0:21

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