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My daughter who recently turned 4 years old has recently had a bad dream (or so we assume). She woke up somewhat scared and told us about it. We tried to explain to her that it was a dream, but she seems to have difficulties comprehending that and differentiating between dream and reality. Since then she has started to "see things". She is scared to go in her room without the light on and expresses that there is a "dream" in there. I attempted to understand what it is that she is seeing and it seems to be shadows and flashes. They seem to be in her room, the hallway and in the kitchen. There is a carbon monoxide detector in the kitchen, that blinks, but she insists that this is not what she is seeing. Sometimes she is terrified to go into the kitchen and cries hysterically. I asked her to draw a picture of it and she is very consistent with her pictures of the flashes and shadows, as they are all squares with a rounded shape on top (imagine a symbol of a closed lock) They don't always have the rounded shape on top, but they are always closed or open squares (sometimes L shapes).
Is this something that we should be concerned about? Is this coming from her brain or her vision? Could it be a mental disorder? We don't have any history of that sort in the family, so I'm almost sure that it is simply due to her recent nightmare, but I want to make sure.
Also, do you have any tips on how to explain to her that it is not real and that there is no need for her to be frightened? I am validating her feelings, but at the same time I do not want to encourage this.

Hi, Manuela,

Kids with vivid imaginations and intelligence can "see" things like this to further cement their ties with their families.  I think it is impossible for anyone to tell you what really is going on here.  I would tend to explain this once, tell her it will probably go away and then try to forget about it.  Kids can have breaks with reality, but this is quite uncommon at this age.  I think the more you discuss it and the more you try to rationalize something like this, even to a bright 4 year old, the more deeply you will dig a hole.  Try gently explaining, dismissing and going on with life.  Hope this doesn't sound to harsh to you, but this is my advice.

Good luck, Dr. Olson


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David Olson, MD


I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions about general pediatric topics, either medical issues or behavioral issues. This would include all the various questions one receives in a busy pediatric practice. I`m a board certified pediatrician in northern Michigan and have been in practice for over 15 years. I enjoy the teaching role I have in our practice and would enjoy the opportunity to help others with their pediatric problems.

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