Walk into the average classroom, and you’ll probably find a student with his head in the clouds. But what if he won’t come back down to reality? Could he have maladaptive daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t just a problem among adults – kids can have it too. In fact, it’s common for MD to begin in childhood. But what what point does normal childhood daydreaming become a problem?
Although it is not always easy to tell, there are distinct characteristics that signal when your child’s fantasizing is too much. This article will highlight these signs and share the most effective methods for keeping your child’s daydreaming healthy and in balance.
Determining MD in Children
For most children, daydreaming is a common phenomenon. In many cases, it can even be beneficial to a child’s development.
A 2015 study published in the Creativity Research Journal found that having detailed imaginary worlds helps children exercise their creativity, make friends, and explore elements of the real world. Another study found that creative visualization helps children stay focused on their future life goals.1
The regular use of daydreaming can foster a positive mindset, promote achievement, and improve a child’s overall well-being.
With this in mind, it’s important not to confuse what may be normal daydreaming with MD. If your child’s daydreaming is only an occasional problem, then it probably isn’t MD. Many children simply have an active imagination, and shouldn’t be discouraged from using their creativity.
However, if your child’s daydreaming is constantly disruptive to his or her learning or social development, then you may need to find ways to reduce it.
Common Signs of Maladaptive Daydreaming
Children with MD tend to have an intense fantasy life. They spend a large amount of time lost in their fictional worlds. Sometimes, they may look as if they’re talking to themselves, or make repetitive movements, like rocking or pacing.
These characteristics are not harmful in themselves, but they are clues to a larger problem when they’re combined with symptoms of inattention.
Although all children sometimes have a hard time paying attention, maladaptive daydreamers find focusing to be a constant struggle. Because their fantasies prevent them from concentrating when they need to, they risk facing serious consequences in their academics, social and home life.
Inattention can take many forms, but the most common behaviors include:
- Easily distracted, appearing unfocused, and oblivious to the surrounding environment.
- Difficulty listening when given instructions
- Absentminded, forgetting homework or losing track of time.
- Failing to follow through on tasks or to complete assignments.
- Forgetful of directions or difficulty remembering things.
- Frequently disorganized, misplacing personal items like pencils, folders, and notebooks.
Children with maladaptive daydreaming may also spend an unusual amount of time alone. While introversion is normal in many children, maladaptive daydreaming may completely replace real-life interactions with other people.
If your child regularly isolates him or herself from family and friends to daydream, it’s a sign that your child’s daydreaming might be too excessive.
Is Maladaptive Daydreaming the Culprit, or Another Condition?
Sometimes maladaptive daydreaming is a symptom of a much larger problem.
The characteristics of MD have much in common with those seen in certain mental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In other cases, emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression are the primary causes. Sometimes, a child may not suffer from MD at all, but from other medical conditions.
Before assuming your child has maladaptive daydreaming, you should consult a physician to make sure that there are no underlying factors involved.
How to Help Your Child With Maladaptive Daydreaming
When your child’s daydreaming is affecting several areas of his or her life, it’s time to intervene. The best place to start is to determine the cause of the excessive fantasizing.
Is your child naturally creative or easily bored with school assignments? Are there recent life changes, such as a divorce or death in the family, that happened around the time your child started daydreaming? Does he or she have difficulties with other children, like bullying or harassment? These factors will determine what steps you need to take to correct the behavior.
In addition, here are some helpful ways to treat your child’s excessive daydreaming.
Children with maladaptive daydreaming need help keeping their minds from wandering. A regular schedule will help your child to concentrate on the present moment. Perform activities such as eating breakfast, chores, and doing homework around the same time of day.
If your child tends to be forgetful or disorganized, create helpful checklists. During long activities, provide short breaks at regular intervals. Throughout the day, have your child perform mental “check-ins” to discourage daydreaming.
Sometimes children daydream to cope with stress. Teaching them calming breathing exercises can do wonders for their emotional health. You can also show them how to perform simple meditation and yoga techniques, which will promote mindfulness and stress relief.
Music, TV, video games, and other media are major triggers for children with maladaptive daydreaming.
Whenever possible, keep a calm living environment. If a child needs to complete important tasks like homework or chores, it’s best to keep the television off and the tablets away. Keep working spaces clean – clutter can also be highly distracting.
When your child is at school, make sure he or she is sitting close to the teacher or away from the hallway, windows, and aquariums.
Keep your child active.
Boredom is another common daydreaming trigger, so it’s best to keep your child involved in many activities during the day.
Spending time outdoors will encourage your child to interact with the external world. Movement-oriented activities are the most effective, such as sports, cycling, or hiking.
For the indoors, incorporate activities that include the whole family – board and card games are great ways to build your child’s social and communication skills.
Most importantly, make sure that your child has healthy outlets for his or her imagination. This not only reduces daydreaming, but it allows children to express their natural creativity in constructive ways.
Choose arts and crafts that are fun and exciting, but also fit well with your child’s natural talents, like drawing, scrapbooking, sand art, and jewelry making.
Remember: there is nothing wrong with children who love daydreaming, as long as their fantasies remain a healthy part of their lives.
Children with maladaptive daydreaming may have a more challenging time than their peers, but with the right knowledge and tools, you can help your child to stay focused and use their creativity to work towards a brighter future.
What ways do you use to help your child with maladaptive daydreaming? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
 Kaufman, Scott Barry. “Dreams of Glory.” Psychology Today. N.p., 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 June 2016.
2 Comments Add yours
I feel like I’ve personally have had this since my parents divorced at 4. Which even though I have short memories of that time, my mother would say I’d “clock out ” when she’d talk to me. After I went through the self exploration stage in my life I find that I have more stamina to be a adult if I set aside time to be by myself and think about the most random things. When I was kid I’d play with a 8 studed Lego and pretend that it was the hand of a warrior that would be fighting some crazy impossible to beat villian. Sounds crazy to me but I did do it. My mom had to stop using timeout on me because I’d play with my fingers and make shooting noises for hours. This has been a distracting thing a major source of fustraton in my 20s because I can’t focus on what I need to focus on. I don’t like redundancies in entertainment so I like to sit alone after hanging with friends for a while. It’s awkward and I’must happy I came across this because I can rationalize it just a bit better but I still have a bunch of what ifs.
I can definitely relate to your childhood experiences – I think that for a lot of us with MD, it starts when we’re young, and then it becomes a lifelong habit that’s incredibly difficult to break. But identifying the problem can sometimes be the most helpful part of getting it under control.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.