Engaging the daydreamer
Christa Melnyk Hines
When my son’s second grade teacher told me that he often appeared to “check out” during the school day, I was concerned. But I wasn’t entirely surprised that my imaginative child would drift off to his dream world, an infinitely more colorful place than a math facts worksheet. Nonetheless, his daydreaming needed to be addressed.
While many dreamers are creative and bright children, they may have trouble getting work done during the school day, struggle with paying attention to the teacher and forget to turn in homework. Worse, they can easily get pegged as slackers.
“The tendency to daydream--though it may be one symptom of Attention Deficit Disorder--does not automatically equal a problem with paying attention when necessary or completing tasks,” writes Amy Fries, author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers. “A child who enjoys daydreaming could well be a budding scientist, writer, artist or visionary entrepreneur.”
Because daydreams play an important role in a child’s social-emotional development and creativity, you wouldn’t want to quash a child’s imagination. Rather, the goal is to help him channel the behavior to more appropriate times of the day.
Daydreaming isn’t uncommon. A study conducted by Harvard psychologists found that we tend to daydream about 47 percent of the time. Some of our society’s most innovative change makers, artists and inventors like Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein were famous daydreamers. While the future may be bright for dreamers, it is necessary to find ways to help children engage in order to learn and enjoy success in a structured academic environment.
“The daydreamer is usually fascinated by something that’s been said and is off in that world,” says Dr. Gay Lynn Pendleton Smith, assistant dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education. The secret to reaching a dreamer, she says, is to teach him how to engage outside of his imagination. “That’s really hard in today’s fast-paced world. Our children are connected to a handheld technology device that gives them one-on-one attention and then we put them in a classroom and ask them to focus on something and do something they haven’t done before. And that’s to engage with a whole group of people and to focus on one individual,” Smith says.
How can you re-engage your daydreamer? Here are a few tips:
• Ensure quiet observation time. Consider if your child is getting enough time to play quietly on his own. Kids given regular quiet time are more likely to exhibit time management and problem solving abilities. Time alone also fosters creativity, self-confidence and independence. Plus, solitude gives kids the opportunity to drive their own play without having to compromise or go along with what the group demands.
• Seek physical and creative outlets. “Outside activities will satisfy some of that dream mode so that when they get in the classroom they can engage and start to think,” Smith says. Activities like swimming, karate, art, theater or playing an instrument can nurture concentration skills and provide avenues for self-expression.
• Encourage note-taking. Talk to your child’s teacher about having him take notes or write down basic words or pictures describing what the teacher says. Older children can also write down thoughts that come up on an idea pad. That way they won’t lose the thought, but can continue to focus on the teacher or task at hand.
• Discuss seating arrangements. Talk to the teacher about seating your child toward the front of the classroom or just off to the side. By being in the middle of the action, her thoughts may be less likely to wander.
• Ask questions. Encourage your child to think of questions she can ask the teacher during instructional time. Also look for opportunities to connect with and listen to your child one-on-one, whether driving in the car or while engaged in a creative process like cooking or baking. Knowing that you are interested in her thoughts may help her feel less inclined to drift off.
If your child continues to struggle with focus and paying attention, consult with your pediatrician.
Signs of inattentiveness disorder, which is on the ADHD spectrum:
• Easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another • Have difficulty focusing on one thing • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities • Doesn't seem to listen when spoken to • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others • Struggle to follow instructions Source: National Institute of Mental Health
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa's latest book is Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.