THE WORLD OF DAYDREAMS
It’s annoying to catch a child’s attention drifting when you’re trying to assign chores or teach a class. Yet after being “successfully” taught that daydreaming is a waste of time, many people go through life chronically tired and unproductive.
The truth is, daydreaming is as important to human effectiveness as night dreaming. “Far from being a worthless distraction, daydreaming seems to be an essential human activity” (Josie Glausiusz, Psychology Today, March/April 2009), playing a major role in creativity and problem-solving.
How to Encourage Healthy Daydreaming
If your kids’ minds constantly seem to wander from what you’re saying, look at yourself first. Are you using twenty words to say what could be covered in five? “Explaining” things the kids already know? Talking over their comprehension level? Saying the same thing the same way long after you should have tried a different approach? Could you listen to you without daydreaming?
Once you’ve gotten past that (and have allowed the kids to personally explain what they understand and how they best learn), drop the habit of reprimanding “daydreaming” when it’s not bothering anybody. Yes, even if someone is apparently staring into space when they’re supposed to be doing their homework: they may be very busy working out a better approach.
Other ways to help kids get the most from daydreaming:
- Leave plenty of free time in their schedules
- Let them be in charge of their own playtimes, inventing their own games and activities. (Teachers: even middle-school kids shouldn’t have to play adult-regimented games exclusively.)
- Instead of buying complicated theme toys, give the kids generic playthings and craft supplies to work out their own themes.
- Set an example of “just relaxing” from your work every hour or so. And when that leads to better ideas for doing your work, share these Eureka experiences.
- Make time to daydream with your children—watching the world go by, letting small talk come naturally.
- Make the sharing of daydreams—and the insights that come from them—a regular topic of family discussion.
When Daydreaming Proves Unhealthy
Of course, every good thing has its dark side. There may be an unhealthy-daydreaming problem if:
- A child seems to live exclusively in her own world, hardly registering any outside input..
- A child is ruminating over anxious or destructive thoughts.
- A child daydreams constantly but never takes visible action on new ideas.
Unhealthy daydreaming may be a sign of mental illness or unrecognized learning differences, so consider getting professional advice. (Just avoid counselors who regard daydreaming itself as a problem to be “cured.”) You can also encourage attention to the “real world” by:
- Encouraging kids to share their interests, and making a joint project of creating appropriate activities.
- Leaving conversational space for slow talkers, even if pauses seem “endless” to you.
- Asking “what/why/tell me” questions—and listening to the answers.
- Being patient!
- Being careful not to let your efforts work against healthy daydreaming.
- Appreciating everyone’s ideal daydreaming level as the individual gift it is. And openly sharing the joy when a child’s daydreaming culminates in real-life problem solving!