Daydreams: The realm of children

Daydreams know no boundaries or rules, everything seems to be possible. Children are masters at it. Good this way.

From 3 years

Into the realm of imagination

Little dreamers often forget the time. And yet daydreams and tumblers are not the same.

Leo grabs a rice cake and pauses. He looks out the kitchen window, up at the sky. His eyes are wide open, but where does he look? He fixes neither the passing clouds nor the flying birds. Then he calls: “Sailors on board. Pirates are seen. We must save the young king’s son!” He does not answer questions about what is going on. He is very far away.

Leo is five and, like many children, a master of daydreaming. Especially when too much happened, as today in day care. He creates his world from thought pieces and stories: The clown shows up and keeps saying no. Or the elephants balancing on a spider web.

Leo’s mini-time-outs are not junk. When children tumble, they want to stop or stretch the time so they can continue playing or do not have to go to bed yet. In addition, especially the little ones have a different sense of time than we adults: Ten minutes, too early, too late, these are abstract concepts for small children, while daydreams seem real. And often wonderful: Because you can be omnipotent, your own abilities are great. Stupid situations can be reinterpreted, emotions such as anger are regulated, moments of joy are extended. Fantasy characters emerge, fairy tale characters hatch plans, protectors are summoned. A lot is happening.

A small child daydreaming looks inward. It turns away from the outside world with open eyes. This is actually not foreign to us adults, because we daydream too, for example, imagine the upcoming holiday or decorate the garden party in our thoughts. Experts have found that children, as well as many adults, spend about half of their waking hours in the inner world.

Beautiful and powerful daydreams are phases of recovery, no matter how absurd, no matter how funny they may be. They have a balancing effect on the psyche and are a blessing for the brain. Radiologist Marcus Raichle once discovered that the resting network, the so-called “default mode network”, is activated during daydreams. Only when it becomes necessary again to gather and concentrate on the outside world does the brain suppress this state of sleep.

Since children do not even plan breaks in their daily lives, daydreams often do this for them. Often they can not tell. And just as fast as they rise, they disappear again.

Like Leo: Suddenly he narrows his eyes, looks around the kitchen, raises his arms and shouts, “Mom, I’m thirsty! Do we have apple juice?”

Structure helps on the sense of time

It is only in primary school age that children begin to use the clock to orient themselves and develop a sense of it: How long is an hour, a day, a week? But even before that, it’s good if the day has a rhythm: getting up, breakfast, daycare group, lunch break. And it’s afternoon where I’m being picked up. This helps little dawdlers and dreamers.

From 8 years

You dream again …

Imagination travel is a fine thing. But too much of it can also cause problems – especially in school. A conversation with the psychologist Stefanie Rietzler

The ELTERN family: Daydreams help smaller children take a break from the hectic everyday life. What are their functions in primary school children?

Stephanie Rietzler: These are creative breaks. When children let their thoughts flow, they suddenly come up with solutions to problems. Or they use their imagination to play out difficult situations beforehand – or to process them afterwards. Daydreaming also helps with boredom, and everyday routines like brushing teeth become more interesting: You can play with the water jet and come up with fairy tales.

But you can not dream all day either. How to imagine the conscious shift from daydreaming to concentrated activity?

This is important in the classroom, for example, where children need to block distractions and make sure their minds do not wander again. We have noticed in our work with school children that they are often better able to concentrate when they play a role using the ‘wolf look’ method. It helps to be fully present in the moment: see everything, hear everything, and fully dedicate yourself to the task that is important in the moment. Like a wolf on the run.

Can too much daydreaming be a signal that a child is crawling too far into a parallel world?

For some children, getting out of their fantasy world presents problems: they miss content in class, need more time for their homework, get criticized because they are not focused. They do not do it on purpose. Exhortations like “Stop dreaming!” bring a little. It’s better to praise, “You did a great job with this math problem! How did you do it?” That way, the kids feel that they can control when they are dreaming and when they are completely in the now. In very severe cases, however, it is a good idea to talk to the pediatrician – he can then rule out disorders such as AD (H) S.

Can daydreams also help to process fear and unpleasant experiences?

Yes. To process difficult experiences, children sometimes instinctively use a technique from psychotherapy: they immerse themselves mentally in the stressful moment, for example: “Three girls from my class tease me on the playground and laugh at me.” At this point, the inner film stops, and the experience now takes a new turn in the imagination: through a witty proverb that is very simple in a dream. Or a helping creature comes by, it could be a friend defending the child, or a mythical creature encouraging and putting the “opponents” on the run … So the scene then turns to the positive.

When it becomes too much for Lotte, she drifts off into her dream world. But at the same time, she learns the wolf’s gaze, which helps her concentrate. Stefanie Rietzler and Fabian Grolimund describe how it works in “Lotte, are you dreaming again?” (Hogrefe, 24.95 euro)

From 12 years

Show us your main cinema

The older children get, the more consciously they can use daydreams for their desires. And what’s going on?

Kiss Me!

Julia, 12 years

I’ve been crazy about him ever since Martin stood next to me during the long break and gave me a really sweet look. In my thoughts we go hand in hand across the schoolyard, then he comes with me to me. Again and again the film runs in my mind while he takes my face in his hands and then …

My best friend says it will not work for me and him, he is with someone from his theater group. She thinks I should see if I like guys like him at school. I now wanted to know what I’m up to. I do not want to hear, it’s all about him. Yesterday I “was” with him on the beach, he warmed me under my towel … funny, it’s winter. But it was as intense as if I had really experienced it.

Fasten seat belts

Louis, 14 years

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a pilot and imagine all sorts of situations to do so. I love flying through storms and landing the plane safely despite all the danger. A little heroic – and then I make the headlines with my courage. For my birthday, I wanted a coupon for a flight simulator. It was amazing, I “flew” a Boeing 747. And set course for one of the most difficult landings in the world, on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten. The planes fly just a few meters over the bathers and land on the beach. Seen from the cockpit, it was all so real that it was so ingrained in me that I kept playing out the flight in all sorts of variations of my imagination. I have already started saving up for my pilot training.

miracle cure

Felix, 12 years old

My grandfather has cancer. I’m the one who can help him. I invent a drug that turns everything around, heals his lungs. He can get up, his hair grows back, he cooks and eats like he used to. It must be a miracle cure, because he smoked a lot. This miracle cure is a tincture that erases everything that has been damaged. So my grandfather is getting well and all the doctors are asking me about the recipe for my miracle cure. And everyone in the world with lung cancer can now be helped. This dream always makes me happy because I have hope that there will still be help for him.

connection to the room

Olivia, 13 years old

A meteorite fell into the valley behind our house. With a yellow-green tail. Only I saw him. I walk to the crash site and see a silver UFO appearing under the crumbling rock. A red figure crawls out and waves to me. Behind her an equally red dinosaur. He looks like something out of a cartoon. I approach them and they try to talk to me. Since I do not understand them, they teach me their galactic language. Soon the two are discovered and I am the only one who can interpret. If you want to get in touch with them, come to me first. A crazy feeling.

Daydreaming is intelligent because daydreaming brains work efficiently and can afford free periods. That’s what researcher Christine Godwin from the Georgia Institute of Technology found in a study.


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