4 Reasons to Encourage Daydreaming


There was a time when Freud described daydreaming as “infantile” and “neurotic.  Daydreaming, he seemed to believe, was nothing but an immature defense mechanism used to avoid dealing with the real tasks at hand.

After many years of research, daydreamers are finally getting the credit they so deserve (somewhere up there, John Lennon is smiling).  Current research shows that people daydream 30% of the time. Mind wandering, as psychologists describe it, actually boasts many benefits.  Sure, it provides a much-needed escape during times of stress (Freud wasn’t always right, you know), but it also opens the mind to new possibilities.

So before you snap your child out of that afternoon daydream in favor of completing yet another homework assignment, consider these reasons to to let the mind wandering continue:

Restores a sense of calm:

When kids allow their brains to wander during times of stress, they begin to feel calm again.  It’s similar to a guided relaxation, minus the guide.  Yes, you want your kids to pay attention in school.  And yes, they have only a certain amount of time to complete tests.  But kids are under an incredible amount of stress these days.  Between rigorous academics and schedules that don’t allow for much downtime, kids lack adequate time to simply check out.

If a few minutes of staring out the window thinking about rainbows and unicorns is what restores a sense of calm in your child, let her be.  The rest can wait.

Inspires creativity:

Taking a mental break from the mundane tasks of daily life actually opens up the mind to creativity.  Have you ever watched as your child daydreamed for a few minutes and then came back to reality with a complicated art project in mind?  Checking out and letting the stress subside for a few minutes can actually give your brain the space it needs to inspire new ideas.

In school, kids need to complete specific tasks and memorize enormous amounts of information.  But at home…they can learn how to think.  Let them sit back and think outside the box for a change.

Improves problem solving skills:

Some kids really struggle with problem-solving strategies.  When frustration kicks in, it can be difficult to think clearly and find alternatives.  This is where the idea of taking a break or a brisk walk comes in.  Often times walking away from a problem opens our minds to new solutions.

A daydream is simply a mental walk.  It’s a break from the immediate feeling of frustration and an opportunity to allow new thoughts in.  It’s a dedicated period of time to work on problem-solving.

Inspires future goals:

Some daydreams are more grounded in reality than others, and that’s ok.  We need to escape from time to time in an effort to maintain happiness.  Although apparently some researchers my disagree, that Oscar speech that you’ve been working on for years might actually bring a smile to your face as you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Just as long as you know that the Oscar fantasy is just that…a fantasy.

But other daydreams can actually promote goal setting.  Sometimes kids will return from a daydream with a specific goal in mind.  Take the opportunity to help your child break that goal into manageable steps and begin working toward it.

Clearly daydreaming can be a very positive outlet for kids.  And with all of the stress thrown at them these days, it’s essential to encourage coping strategies that work.  So go ahead and let your little dreamer dream just a little bit longer…and maybe use that time to perfect your Oscar speech, you know, just in case.

Do you have a daydreamer in your house?

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)