While many daydreamers are creative, bright children, they may struggle to pay attention to the teacher, complete work or remember to turn in homework. Worse, they can easily get pegged as slackers.
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 channel the behavior to more appropriate times of the day.
“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 a Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers. “A child who enjoys daydreaming could well be a budding scientist, writer, artist or visionary entrepreneur.”
Some of society’s most innovative change makers, artists and inventors like Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein were famous daydreamers.
Shift the daydream
Daydreaming isn’t uncommon. A study conducted by Harvard psychologists found that we tend to daydream about 47 percent of the time. But for students, it is necessary to find ways to help them 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 Gay Lynn Pendleton Smith, EdD, 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,” she says. “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 engage with a whole group of people and focus on one individual.”
5 ways to engage
How can you engage your daydreamer?
Here are a few tips:
1. 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 skills. Time by themselves 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.
2. 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.
3. Encourage note-taking.
For younger children, see if they are allowed to take notes or write down basic words or pictures that describe what the teacher says. Older children can also use an idea pad to write down stray thoughts that pop up. That way they won’t lose the thought, but can continue to focus on the teacher or task at hand.
4. 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.
5. Ask questions.
Encourage your child to think of questions she can ask the teacher during class. Look for opportunities to connect with and listen to your child one-on-one. If she knows that you are interested in her thoughts it may help her feel less inclined to drift off.
If your child continues to struggle with focus and paying attention, consult with your pediatrician.
Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance writer.