Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 186–199 | Cite as

Nighttime Fears and Fantasy–Reality Differentiation in Preschool Children

  • Tamar Zisenwine
  • Michal Kaplan
  • Jonathan Kushnir
  • Avi SadehEmail author
Original Article


Nighttime fears are very common in preschool years. During these years, children’s fantasy–reality differentiation undergoes significant development. Our study was aimed at exploring the links between nighttime fears and fantasy–reality differentiation in preschool children. Eighty children (aged: 4–6 years) suffering from severe nighttime fears were compared with 32 non-fearful controls. Fears were assessed using child and parental reports. Children viewed images depicting fantastic or real entities and situations, and were asked to report whether these were imaginary or could occur in real life. The results revealed that children with nighttime fears demonstrated more fantasy–reality confusion compared to their controls. These differences in fantasy–reality differentiation were more pronounced in younger children. Additional significant associations were found between fantasy–reality differentiation and age and specific characteristics of the stimuli. These preliminary findings, suggesting a developmental delay in fantasy–reality differentiation in children with nighttime fears, have significant theoretical and clinical implications.


Nighttime fears Anxiety Preschool Child Fantasy Reality 



The study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 1047/08 to Avi Sadeh). The authors are thankful to Ornit Arbel for coordinating and managing the study and to the participating families.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamar Zisenwine
    • 1
  • Michal Kaplan
    • 1
  • Jonathan Kushnir
    • 2
  • Avi Sadeh
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Psychological ScienceTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.Sleep and Anxiety Center for KidsHouston UniversityHoustonUSA

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