Children who display disrupting behaviors, such as hyperactivity, talking when they are not supposed to, aggression, fidgeting, and other more challenging behaviors are often the children who receive the most attention in terms of being identified as a child in need of support services in school or as a child who’s parents are struggling to find what discipline and other parenting strategies to use at home. However, there are other children who receive less immediate attention from adults and the school systems because they are not displaying these more disruptive behaviors. Instead, these children often daydream which does not lead to many adults feeling the need to create any interventions for the kids. The kids who daydream may or may not need support services. As a parent or professional working with a child, it is important to consider whether a particular child’s daydreaming warrants further monitoring and possible intervention or not. Read the following information to find out more information about children and daydreaming.
Amy Fries’ article, “The Power of Daydreaming” on Psychology Today presents the positive aspects of daydreaming. Fries makes reference to a few research studies that provide support for how daydreaming helps children develop social skills, creativity, and helps them to process information.
Daydreaming can help children to create, practice, and process dialogues they may have with others. Daydreaming, or the wandering mind, may provide the benefit of allowing a child to improve their creativity by its very nature of allowing the mind to free associate meaning the mind more freely flows from one thought to another which can lead to more creative ideas, more thinking “outside the box” (outside the current situation being experienced). Research has suggested that nighttime dreaming helps individuals to process information they learned during the day as well as process the experiences they had. This may also be true of daydreaming, as well.
Daydreaming is certainly not all bad. Adults should not attempt to stop children from daydreaming completely. According to Joseph Stromberg’s article, “The Benefits of Daydreaming,” at the Smithsonian.com, daydreamers may actually have better working memory particularly in the face of distraction which can definitely be a useful skill in these busy and sometimes chaotic times.
[image credit: Alive Campus]
Certainly some daydreaming can be a symptom of certain mental health or neurological disorders (such as ADHD, schizophrenia, Autism, etc.). Some daydreaming can be problematic when it impairs functioning in academics, in social situations, or at home. Daydreaming can be a side effect of a learning disorder or may contribute to a learning disorder. Daydreaming may be problematic when it negatively impacts a child’s connection with others, as well.
Many teachers, parents, and others often attribute daydreaming to an attention disorder like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, this is not necessarily the case although some children with ADHD may also daydream.
When daydreaming occurs so frequently that your child or a child you work with is experiencing negative outcomes frequently within any area of life, it is worth taking a serious look at the cause and possible solutions for addressing daydreaming.
As mentioned above, daydreaming is not a problem. The problem occurs when daydreaming impairs a person’s functioning in an area of life that creates significant problems for that individual in comparison to most of their peers. Even then, without knowing your particular, unique situation, I can’t say that daydreaming is for sure a problem. Daydreaming can be beneficial to a person’s overall well-being. Trying to eliminate daydreaming may not be the answer. The answer is more likely to help a child know when and how much to daydream and to know how to snap out of daydreaming when necessary. For instance, a child’s educational performance may suffer tremendously if they daydream during all reading lessons for weeks in a row.
We all daydream to an extent. The voice in our heads that gives us an idea, that plans ahead, that decides what’s for dinner, or that replays a situation that occurred to us previously in the day or further in the past are all forms of daydreaming. Our minds are focusing on something else besides the particular situation we are currently in. So most of us daydream regularly but daydreaming is only problematic for some people.
Sometimes people daydream when they are in a situation that is not as entertaining, not as interesting, not as attention-maintaining, or not as reinforcing as what is necessary to hold their minds to remain focused on the current situation. It may be more difficult for some people to remain “mindful” in the present moment particularly in these less preferred situations.
If daydreaming is a problem for a child you know, consider the following tips:
- Don’t try to stop a daydreamer from daydreaming (not completely anyway). Instead, teach the child to become more self-aware by helping them to catch themselves daydreaming and to learn the skills to re-focus their attention.
- Teach the child to monitor their own behavior. One way to do this is described by Additude Magazine. The idea was also introduced to me by my supervisor at the Autism Center of Central Michigan, Leasa Androl, MA, BCBA. The technique is to provide the child with a device that will vibrate or make a sound every so many seconds or minutes (whatever amount of time you decide for your child). When the device vibrates or makes a sound, the child is to mark on a provided piece of paper or index card whether, in that moment, he was daydreaming (or paying attention to the task whether it’s his homework or listening to the teacher). The parent can help the child to learn how to do this and then he can try it on his own.
- Practice (or have the child practice) “mindful breathing” to help keep daydreaming to a minimum. To do this, one study by Smallwood and Schooler (2012) cited by Urge Surf suggests focusing on your breathe for eight minutes a day. When your mind wanders from the breathe, bring your attention back to your breathe.
- Consider the child’s environment & your teaching strategies. Are there things that can be changed in the child’s environment to help them daydream less often? For instance, if you are a teacher or an educator of some sort, can the curriculum be provided in a more engaging manner? (Please don’t take offense if you are a teacher. I am sure that most teachers and parents do the best job that they can and teachers are not always able to keep every single child engaged at all times.) If you are a parent, are there things you can do for your child that will enhance their focus during homework time, such as make it a race to finish the homework in order to earn a reward?
- Improve nutrition. Healthy foods are, of course, good for many reasons. Eating nutritious foods can certainly help a child to have better control over their attention as well as have more focus on the task at hand throughout the day.
- Get enough rest. Being sleep deprived can also lead to more daydreaming. Sleep deprivation can make it easier to drift off into one’s own mind especially in a not so entertaining environment.
Check out: Taking Charge of ADHD, Third Edition: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents for ideas on helping kids with ADHD who daydream and have difficulty with focusing.
Another helpful resource that could be used in a professional setting or at home with kids who struggle with attention and daydreaming is The ADHD Workbook for Kids: Helping Children Gain Self-Confidence, Social Skills, and Self-Control (Instant Help)
[image credit: Tyler Olson – Fotolia.com]
If you have other ideas about children who daydream often, please feel free to comment below.