“Everything starts as somebody’s daydream.” – Larry Niven
Remember staring out the window at school, your daydream broken by the teacher calling your name? What were you thinking about? You might not have known, but the fact is, you were thinking. Not in the logical 1- 2- 3 kind of way, but in a deeper way that is an important part of our brain’s functioning, and is crucial to emotional and intellectual health.
According to famed cognitive psychologist Jerome Singer, daydreaming is our default state of mind. In other words, that’s where our mind automatically goes when we don’t need to place full attention on a task.
How much time do we spend daydreaming? More than you think. On average, people spend 1/3 to 1/2 of their waking hours daydreaming. It happens while you’re in class, meetings, shopping or listening to your boss explain … whatever.
I am happy to say that the old idea of a lazy daydreamer is over. Science is now showing that people who daydream actually have better working memories, and can stay better focused with distractions.
Daydreaming helps personalities grow, including creativity, empathy, social skills, the capacity to reason, make choices, understand the complexities of life, try on different possibilities, and make sense of things you don’t understand.
Children are natural dreamers. Their wandering minds are actually hard at work. Role playing, imagining scenarios of winning, losing, what they might become one day. They are rehearsing life and it’s as important a task as study or sleep.
Life is crammed full these days. The time for reflection gets smaller and smaller. Barely a blip in most of our hi-speed, hi-tech lives. Our kids too. They are the most overbooked generation in all of history. There is less time for unstructured free play than ever before.
Many parents equate overbooking with good parenting. Extracurricular activities are wonderful, but not so many that the child doesn’t have downtime for herself.
Not only are our kids overbooked, even in downtime they are busy with cell phones and other distractions. The reality is our children are becoming uncomfortable with silence and time for reflection.
It’s never too late to start scheduling unstructured time for daydreaming, and that goes for you too!
Here are Some Tips
- Cell-free zone. Downtime is no-tech time. Your children will whine, but they’ll get used to it as long as you follow the rules too.
- Look at your calendar and be as realistic about plotting your downtime as you are making time for other important activities.
- Create more space for daydreaming. Put a chair by the window. Leave books out. Drawing paper. Scratch pads.
- Invite conversation. Ask big questions like “What is happiness to you?”
Dream together. Talking with your child makes your whole family stronger.
- Be a role model about your own downtime. Put that cell phone down and start daydreaming!