I've been scanning through the link A-squared posted and found this. Although she gives tips to hopefully help reduce nightmares, I take from it that it's normal for older children to wake from nightmares and require an adult's help in getting back to sleep
"Throughout many children's lives there are times when their sleep is disturbed because of nightmares, night terrors or sleepwalking. These can be frightening for children and a worry for parents.
Toddlers are at an age where they are particularly prone to nightmares. They are most likely to happen in between 3-6 years of age although they can happen at any age. This is because they have a lot more dream sleep (REM sleep) than adults do and so have essentially more opportunity to have them.
What are nightmares?
Nightmares are frightening dreams which most children have at some time or other. On waking from a nightmare, children will usually tell you what has frightened them. Lots of children wake and think that what they have dreamt is real. With comfort they can usually return to sleep. Toddlers particularly find it hard to tell whether their dream is real or not.
What causes nightmares?
All dreaming, including nightmares are linked with things that happened during the day. Sleep researchers believe that dreams are actually the brain working through information that we have learnt or seen during the day. However, because we are unconscious when we dream, the images and stories in dreams often don’t make sense.
Dreams and nightmares are normal ways for people to deal with their worries and to draw our attention to them. As children gain confidence in dealing with the problems of growing up, nightmares tend to get less.
Nightmares can increase when we are stressed or worried. If they are happening a lot to your toddler, think about what is going on in your child's life. For example, has there been a recent upset in the family (break-in, death, loss of job, parents arguing)? Has there been a recent change in their lives like starting child care, school, going to hospital or parents starting work.
In 3-6 year of age range children develop a vivid imagination in their day time play and sometimes have nightmares about monsters and robbers.
Tips for parents :
- Be comforting and calm when your toddler has a nightmare. Consider staying with them a little linger after the nightmare.
- Telling them the dreams is not real often is to difficult for your toddler to understand so sometimes this is not helpful.
- Bedroom doors can be left open and a night light left on.
- It often helps the child to talk about it, but try not to get into long talks in the middle of the night.
- If the dream is often about the same thing (a monster) or has the same ending( a robber coming into the house), discuss with your toddler how they could change their dream so it ends happily . For example, tell the minster to go away, or make the monster laugh.
- TV and video games can be powerful triggers which disturb children's sleep. Carefully choose what programs your children watch. Make sure they do not watch these things close to bedtime.
- Turn off adult TV when your toddler is in the room. Even when they are not “watching’ they still absorb that information and that can be very scary for them.
- Make sure bedtime routines are calm and loving and make sure your toddler feels safe and secure in their bedroom.
- Evening routines are often helpful in settling children into bed. Wind down the day's activities e.g. with a bath, story, talk with a parents, tuck into bed and goodnight hug."