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Daydreaming is a habit that can seem harmless enough and can seem like it's perhaps even a good thing in some senses � the ability to drift off and to imagine a different scenario and a different world, the imagination to think up things that aren't in front of you and the opportunity to escape the mundane. It can be a great way to pass the time, a great way to find out more about yourself and a great way to be creative and to come up with ideas and plans and inventions.
Daydreaming is supposed to be an optional escape from reality that serves a purpose and that you can turn on and off, it's not supposed to encroach on reality and it's not supposed to distract you from what you are meant to be doing. In some cases daydreaming can be embarrassing or get you into trouble � when you start to drift off into a daydream when someone's talking to you, when you're in a meeting, or when you're in a class. In other cases it can prevent you from taking in the information you are meant to which can hamper your progress in relationships, academics and careers. In other situations it can actually be dangerous and if you are daydreaming when you are driving for instance then you will find yourself with slower reactions and more likely to have an accident.
So the aim then should be not to completely stop daydreaming, but to simply cut it down and get it under control so that it is an outlet and a hobby that you can use to pass the time or explore your own mind � not something that you have no control over or that you are getting into trouble for. Here are some suggestions as to how you can get your daydreaming back under control.
Get More Sleep
Studies have shown that if we don't get enough sleep, specifically of the REM kind (Rapid Eye Movement � which is the sleep where we dream), then this can start to encroach into our waking lives in the forms of hallucinations. At the very least it makes it easier for us to drift off deep into thought and imagination as in daydream. Find ways to not only improve the quantity of your sleep, but also the quality, by ensuring that you have a good environment in your room that is conducive to sleep, and by ensuring that you set aside enough time each day for resting. You can also try other methods, such as going running during the day to tire yourself out, and drinking less caffeine.
Likewise when you are meant to be more awake then find ways to keep yourself switched on and alert. You can do this by for instance keeping a window open so that the cool air will keep you feeling fresh � avoid warm cozy environments. Likewise try having some loud, up-tempo music, or try having a strong cup of coffee. All these things will keep you buzzing and hopefully prevent you from drifting away.
If you are fantasizing then this is a form of expression and a way for you to deal with emotions and feelings. If this is the case then you might simply need to take more time out for yourself in order to express those thoughts and feelings. So perhaps take up painting or creative writing and this has given you an avenue to channel that creativity so that it doesn't start creeping up on you in boring lectures and meetings.
Daydreaming is also often a sign of boredom � that you are not interested in what's going on around you and that you thus need more stimulation. You need to find ways then to engage yourself more with your surroundings and reality and you need to do this by trying to keep things interesting. Actively engage in what people are saying and think about how it affects you and what is interesting about it � if you are creative then even the driest piece of information can have an interesting slant. Failing that try counting things or giving yourself other mental challenges to keep you fixed on what's going on in the real world.
Wake Yourself Up
If you are daydreaming when you should be working then a simple solution is to set an alarm for ten minutes. Then when it goes off hit snooze and it will be another five or ten minutes before it sounds again. This then means that you won't be able to drift off into daydream because every time you forget to be cognizant of what you're meant to be doing, you will be startled back to wakefulness by the sound of your alarm. Similarly you can get a friend to nudge you or to check occasionally that you are still on the land of the living.
Of course being distracted isn't going to help you to be productive, but it will help you to avoid daydreaming. What then is the solution and how can you get the best of both worlds? Simple � you aim to distract the creative right side of the brain and you can do this by using music (but music which has no lyrics � as language is a left brain function). Part of the problem when you're trying to read a particularly dull text book is that it engages your left brain which is all about language and logic, but it doesn't engage your right brain which is about creativity. Thus that part of your brain wanders. If you have music on however, then you can avoid that side of your brain becoming distracting as it can 'hum along' to the music as it were.
Do Something Physical
If you are having a hard time staying in the real world then something physical can be used in order to ground you. For instance you will find that exercising or sports makes it quite hard for you to daydream, and likewise you might find that it's hard for you to daydream if you are tapping your own arm.
If you are daydreaming a lot then this might be a problem you are having with focus and attention. These are skills that can be trained like any other and there are many different ways you can do this. Look for brain training games online or on games consoles and phones etc and try practicing using these. Otherwise just try tasking yourself to concentrate hard on something for a certain amount of time without interruption.
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Children who display disrupting behaviors, such as hyperactivity, talking when they are not supposed to, aggression, fidgeting, and other more challenging behaviors are often the children who receive the most attention in terms of being identified as a child in need of support services in school or as a child who’s parents are struggling to find what discipline and other parenting strategies to use at home. However, there are other children who receive less immediate attention from adults and the school systems because they are not displaying these more disruptive behaviors. Instead, these children often daydream which does not lead to many adults feeling the need to create any interventions for the kids. The kids who daydream may or may not need support services. As a parent or professional working with a child, it is important to consider whether a particular child’s daydreaming warrants further monitoring and possible intervention or not. Read the following information to find out more information about children and daydreaming.
Amy Fries’ article, “The Power of Daydreaming” on Psychology Today presents the positive aspects of daydreaming. Fries makes reference to a few research studies that provide support for how daydreaming helps children develop social skills, creativity, and helps them to process information.
Daydreaming can help children to create, practice, and process dialogues they may have with others. Daydreaming, or the wandering mind, may provide the benefit of allowing a child to improve their creativity by its very nature of allowing the mind to free associate meaning the mind more freely flows from one thought to another which can lead to more creative ideas, more thinking “outside the box” (outside the current situation being experienced). Research has suggested that nighttime dreaming helps individuals to process information they learned during the day as well as process the experiences they had. This may also be true of daydreaming, as well.
Daydreaming is certainly not all bad. Adults should not attempt to stop children from daydreaming completely. According to Joseph Stromberg’s article, “The Benefits of Daydreaming,” at the Smithsonian.com, daydreamers may actually have better working memory particularly in the face of distraction which can definitely be a useful skill in these busy and sometimes chaotic times.
[image credit: Alive Campus]
Certainly some daydreaming can be a symptom of certain mental health or neurological disorders (such as ADHD, schizophrenia, Autism, etc.). Some daydreaming can be problematic when it impairs functioning in academics, in social situations, or at home. Daydreaming can be a side effect of a learning disorder or may contribute to a learning disorder. Daydreaming may be problematic when it negatively impacts a child’s connection with others, as well.
Many teachers, parents, and others often attribute daydreaming to an attention disorder like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, this is not necessarily the case although some children with ADHD may also daydream.
When daydreaming occurs so frequently that your child or a child you work with is experiencing negative outcomes frequently within any area of life, it is worth taking a serious look at the cause and possible solutions for addressing daydreaming.
As mentioned above, daydreaming is not a problem. The problem occurs when daydreaming impairs a person’s functioning in an area of life that creates significant problems for that individual in comparison to most of their peers. Even then, without knowing your particular, unique situation, I can’t say that daydreaming is for sure a problem. Daydreaming can be beneficial to a person’s overall well-being. Trying to eliminate daydreaming may not be the answer. The answer is more likely to help a child know when and how much to daydream and to know how to snap out of daydreaming when necessary. For instance, a child’s educational performance may suffer tremendously if they daydream during all reading lessons for weeks in a row.
We all daydream to an extent. The voice in our heads that gives us an idea, that plans ahead, that decides what’s for dinner, or that replays a situation that occurred to us previously in the day or further in the past are all forms of daydreaming. Our minds are focusing on something else besides the particular situation we are currently in. So most of us daydream regularly but daydreaming is only problematic for some people.
Sometimes people daydream when they are in a situation that is not as entertaining, not as interesting, not as attention-maintaining, or not as reinforcing as what is necessary to hold their minds to remain focused on the current situation. It may be more difficult for some people to remain “mindful” in the present moment particularly in these less preferred situations.
If daydreaming is a problem for a child you know, consider the following tips:
- Don’t try to stop a daydreamer from daydreaming (not completely anyway). Instead, teach the child to become more self-aware by helping them to catch themselves daydreaming and to learn the skills to re-focus their attention.
- Teach the child to monitor their own behavior. One way to do this is described by Additude Magazine. The idea was also introduced to me by my supervisor at the Autism Center of Central Michigan, Leasa Androl, MA, BCBA. The technique is to provide the child with a device that will vibrate or make a sound every so many seconds or minutes (whatever amount of time you decide for your child). When the device vibrates or makes a sound, the child is to mark on a provided piece of paper or index card whether, in that moment, he was daydreaming (or paying attention to the task whether it’s his homework or listening to the teacher). The parent can help the child to learn how to do this and then he can try it on his own.
- Practice (or have the child practice) “mindful breathing” to help keep daydreaming to a minimum. To do this, one study by Smallwood and Schooler (2012) cited by Urge Surf suggests focusing on your breathe for eight minutes a day. When your mind wanders from the breathe, bring your attention back to your breathe.
- Consider the child’s environment & your teaching strategies. Are there things that can be changed in the child’s environment to help them daydream less often? For instance, if you are a teacher or an educator of some sort, can the curriculum be provided in a more engaging manner? (Please don’t take offense if you are a teacher. I am sure that most teachers and parents do the best job that they can and teachers are not always able to keep every single child engaged at all times.) If you are a parent, are there things you can do for your child that will enhance their focus during homework time, such as make it a race to finish the homework in order to earn a reward?
- Improve nutrition. Healthy foods are, of course, good for many reasons. Eating nutritious foods can certainly help a child to have better control over their attention as well as have more focus on the task at hand throughout the day.
- Get enough rest. Being sleep deprived can also lead to more daydreaming. Sleep deprivation can make it easier to drift off into one’s own mind especially in a not so entertaining environment.
[Girl Looking Up/Daydreaming: image credit: © Tyler Olson – Fotolia.com]
If you have other ideas about children who daydream often, please feel free to comment below.