young asian child closing her eyes and daydreaming while lying on a field of grass

It’s storytelling time and all the kids are listening with rapt attention, save for little Ben who seems contented in his own world, staring into space and dreaming of his own stories. Should you be worried if your child daydreams a lot? Research has shown that daydreaming is in fact a sign of a well-equipped brain and comes with benefits such as creativity, better empathy, learning consolidation, better working memory and lowered blood pressure.

Our Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and self-confessed former daydreamer remarked at the recent National University of Singapore Business School’s 50th anniversary gala dinner: “I never regretted the fact that I did a lot of daydreaming when I was young because it turns out to have been very useful.” He further espoused the benefits of daydreaming and highlighted the need to give children space for their minds to wander and be original in today’s competitive world.

Benefits of Daydreaming

young asian child gazing out of a car window

While it might appear to be “zoning out”, research has shown that daydreamers are actually doing useful brainwork. Far from being useless, mind wandering allows our brains to process and consolidate recently acquired information for future reference, they may even help motivate us towards achieving our goals.

Daydreaming provides a rich mental playground for creative visualisation and future envisioning. A child may be fantasising about his LEGO set at home, a computer game he is playing or a movie he watched the previous night. These worlds that he dreams of take on a life of their own through his imagination and help fuel originality and creativity. During these zone outs, ideas flow more freely without restriction or limits, and daydreamers are able to find connections or associations between ideas more readily. Daydreaming may also serve to distract our attention from immediate tasks to solve other, more important problems.

Anticipating a scenario or rehearsing a future encounter through daydreams is also one way to be more mentally prepared. Visualising scenarios also helps children work out a basket of readily usable strategies or solutions when faced with a challenging situation. Visualising helps them build confidence in employing these strategies too.

Other scientifically proven benefits of daydreaming include better working memory, more empathy and better learning consolidation.

Related: Imagining and Creating: Toddlers

On the Good Side of Daydreaming

on the good side of daydreaming

Rather than clamp down on such mental escapades, redirect and encourage your children to daydream in healthy, open environments such as at the park or at a nature reserve with fresh air, sunshine and greenery. Nature has proven to be an enduring inspiration and backdrop for great daydreams.

Reading, especially fiction work, is another activity to encourage healthy daydreaming in children. From reading about travel adventures to faraway worlds, reading lets your child explore different cultures, landscapes and experiences from the mind’s eye.

Ultimately, daydreaming nurtures the adoption of different perspectives and possibilities, which can only be a good thing in an increasingly global and interconnected world. A child that has considered various viewpoints is able to better empathise and relate to strangers without needing to be grounded in the same shared experiences.

Related: Imagining and Creating: Pre-Schoolers

When Daydreaming Turns Into a Nightmare

young asian boy rests his head on his hands as he looks down sadly

However, too much daydreaming can be a cause for concern when it gets in the way of your child’s ability to focus and get things done.

The difference lies in the frequency of the daydreaming and the appropriateness of it. Daydreaming can also become a problem if it significantly disturbs a child’s functioning compared to his or her peers.

Some signs of a daydreaming habit that may need to be monitored include:

  • If the behaviour impairs the child’s daily functions, for example, not finishing homework or an exam paper due to excessive bouts or lapses in attention.

  • If the behaviour harms personal relationships or prevents creating connection with others, for example, the child is not present or engaged at important family gatherings.

  • If there are multiple episodes of absent-mindedness or forgetfulness that lead to wasted time, missed opportunities or unnecessary expenditure.

  • If the child continually appears to be overly distracted, especially when coupled with a disorder such as ADHD.

  • If the child engages in excessive daydreaming which dwells on problems and negative thoughts. This could be considered maladaptive and an early warning sign of depression.

Focusing Strategies and Mindfulness Tips

young asian boy focusing on his homework

Thankfully, all is not lost for a child with a wandering mind. A wandering mind can be refocused and redirected to more engaged states with gentle coaxing, mindfulness and these other tips:

  • Nutrition and rest

    Ensure that your child is having proper nutrition, including a diet that is high in essential fatty acids and fibre for the brain. Cut down on sugar and ensure adequate rest so that the mind and body are functioning at their peak.


  • Mindful breathing

    Paying attention to one’s breath is a quick and easy technique to remind one to stay in the present moment. Whenever your child finds their mind wandering off again, ask them to gently return their attention to their breath.


  • Encourage self-awareness

    It is nigh impossible to control your child’s thoughts, instead, it is perhaps wiser to encourage them to be more self-aware of their own thought patterns and behaviours. Encourage independence and ownership.


  • Set time-specific tasks

    Keep work and play separate with strict time zones for each. This teaches your child to focus on the task at hand, for example, completing an exercise paper, while saving your child’s daydreaming for a later, approved time.


  • Be active, keep your child engaged

    Explore the great outdoors! Find a new road or discover a hidden cove. The real world need not be boring and keeping your child engaged and excited about life as it is lived moment by moment is the best antidote to wandering minds.

    To quote Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Therefore, there is no harm to the fantastical daydream or two, as long as it motivates and leads towards more action and not inaction in your child.


References

  1. Fries, A. (2009, Oct 9). How Daydreaming Helps Children Process Information and Explore Ideas [Website].
    Retrieved July 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-daydreaming/200910/how-daydreaming-helps-children-process-information-and-explore

  2. Gilmore, H. (2014, Dec 13). Help for the Daydreaming Child [Website].
    Retrieved July 2016 from http://pro.psychcentral.com/child-therapist/2014/12/helping-the-daydreaming-child/#

  3. Tan, B. (2015, Nov 1). Let the children wander and wonder [Website].
    Retrieved July 2016 from http://themiddleground.sg/2015/11/01/daydream/

  4. Toh, E. M. (2015, Oct 29). ‘Wandering’ minds not always a bad thing for children, says Tharman. Today.
    Retrieved July 2016 from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/wandering-minds-not-always-bad-thing-children-says-tharman

  5. Carl, Z. (2009, Jun 15). The Brain: Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State [Website].
    Retrieved July 2016 from http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/15-brain-stop-paying-attention-zoning-out-crucial-mental-state