Pleasant, wishful, imaginative thoughts called daydreams are frequent in normal children. Daydreaming has come to mean the indulging in reveries at inappropriate times. It also carries the implication of difficulty in paying attention. Most typical are daydreams about being heroes, winners, and world famous. Television, comic books, and movies often serve to exaggerate this tendency in children. After being exposed to super heroes, many children daydream (and often dream at night) about having super powers themselves. Destructive and conquering daydreams also occur. Daydreams persist throughout childhood an adolescence. With the onset of puberty, many adolescents show an increase in the time spent daydreaming.

The main indicator of difficulty is daydreams interfering with appropriate functioning. When a child daydreams instead of paying attention, completing tasks, interacting with peers, etc., then problematic daydreaming is indicated. Additionally, a negative sign is more and more time spent in daydreaming. Fleeting daydreams are typical, but prolonged fantasies are not. When an 8 to 10 year old frequently spends more than 10 minutes in reveries, this is not a typical reaction. Problematic daydreaming is evident when children of any age describe their fantasies as fabulous and their everyday life as being boring or too difficult.

Reasons Why

Daydreams Perceived as More satisfying than reality. When a child feels that real life is too difficult or unusually unsatisfying, daydreaming becomes a pleasant escape. Wishes are fulfilled by imagination. Fantasies provide a strong feeling of satisfaction in comparison to the boredom of everyday activities. Daydreaming is seen by the child as being an easier task than solving social or academic problems. Children may become more and more preoccupied with fantasies and less involved in coping with their real surroundings. They become absorbed in their own thoughts and spend more time in their private world. Some children develop imaginary companions who provide them with a satisfying relationship. This is especially true for children who feel excluded or who immune from criticism or negative feelings. These children have the capacity to function effectively in their environment. However, their talents are diverted from gaining praise from others and recognition for completing tasks.

Compensation for Real Handicaps. Children with physical handicaps often daydream about being normal and famous. As discussed in the introduction, when daydreaming becomes an interference with other activities or becomes excessive, it is a cause for concern. More subtle is the daydreaming of children with an "invisible handicap." Children with learning disabilities, who appear normal, have the real handicap of being unable to cope with the usual educational environment. Their continued failure and difficulties often lead to daydreaming as an escape. These children often have great difficulty understanding complex instructions or abstract ideas. Many children are very frustrated by their inability to read as well as they should (according to their intelligence) or to express themselves either verbally or in writing. Whatever the specific handicap is, the real frustrations can easily lead to problematic daydreaming. The satisfaction or feeling of power not attainable in the real world is sought in fantasies.

Daydreaming as a Habit. Daydreaming is frequent in young children, and a small percentage of children do not outgrow this pleasurable habit. Some children are quite prone to developing habits (such as nailbiting, scratching, etc.), and the habit then continues as a familiar and accustomed way of behaving. Even when a child's everyday activities are relatively satisfying, excessive daydreaming still occurs. Some children develop specific times to daydream. A frequent, and unfortunate, habit is fantasizing while a teacher (or parent) is speaking or lecturing. Other children daydream at certain times when there is nothing to do. In a ritualistic manner, some children may prepare themselves to daydream for a half-hour before or after dinner.

Daydreams of Shy Children. Vivid daydreaming is especially prevalent in shy children. Children who felt unprotected by their mother or psychologically separated prematurely from parents, often develop shyness and feelings of inability to cope. They experience awkwardness and embarrassment in social interactions. In comparison, fantasies provide great pleasure and no negative feelings. Shy children can be seen to spend time in pleasant reveries with a smile on their faces. Of great concern is that they often become more anxious in social situations and participate less and less with others. Proportionately, their daydreams become more reinforcing and occur more frequently.

How to Prevent
  1. Promote Early Competency
  2. Stress Daily Satisfaction
  3. Special Plans for Handicapped Children
What to Do
  1. Plan Activities
  2. Reward Attentiveness and Productivity
  3. Assess Theme of Daydreaming
  4. Seek Professional help
Case Report
A 14-year-old girl was frequently daydreaming at home and at school. her schoolwork was not up to par, and her teacher reported that "her daydreaming was interfering with her concentration and her performance." At home, she spent a great deal of time in her room and was apparently daydreaming even when she listening to music or while doing homework. She had few friends and frequently expressed boredom. Two family therapy sessions and eight psychotherapy sessions with the girl resulted in a reduction in time spent on daydreaming and more productive involvement with her environment.

Key ingredients were the development of active plans for the girl and the teacher's communication with the parents. Plans were made for increased social participation. It was agreed that she would join an after school photography club, which met twice a week. On Saturday morning, she would attend the local recreation center. The teacher's daily phone call regarding less daydreaming and improved class participation resulted in extra allowance and a special weekend event (if there were at least three positive calls). In psychotherapy, her perception of her life as both scary and dull was discussed. After 2 months, the girl's analysis of her progress was that she was doing more, felt happier, and didn't only look forward to daydreaming. Schoolwork and homework were completed satisfactory.
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