My nine-year-old son daydreams a lot. Is this a problem?



My eldest son is 9. For the last couple of months I noticed that he daydreams. While doing so, he kind of skips up and down the kitchen while he is in his own thoughts. He might do this 10 times a day, taking a break from other activities to come into the kitchen. He explains he is just imagining things. At the start it was happening just a couple of times during the week in the evenings and I thought he was tired and just processing his day. But now it has become so frequent. I’m not sure where to go from here, can you advise?

Daydreaming itself is not problematic. Children use daydreaming as a way to process information, consolidate learning, think outside the box, create and practice dialogue, solve problems, or sometimes just simply give themselves a break from the otherwise task-focused activities.

It can become a problem, however, when it gets in the way of other important things children may need to do (like paying attention to school, directions, jobs, homework, conversations with others and so on). Your son’s daydreaming doesn’t yet appear to be disruptive, although it does seem to be a bit intrusive, since he specifically goes to the kitchen and does some kind of skipping behaviour during his “switch off” time.

This “active” daydreaming has only developed for your son, since the rapid change in circumstances brought about by coronavirus. It wasn’t an immediate thing, but does seem to be becoming more intrusive, in his day, as time passes. Perhaps the virus, or the lockdown, and any stresses that these may have introduced could be associated with the development of the daydreaming.

The nature, or focus of his thinking, during the times he is daydreaming, may be relevant. If he gives any indication that the focus is anxiety or worry related, then the skipping behaviour, and needing to locate it in a particular place (the kitchen) may reflect more of a compulsive or repetitive, behaviour that a child might engage in as a way to stave off anxiety.

If he does describe that he has worry thoughts, while daydreaming, or thoughts about bad things happening, then it may be worth getting a professional opinion from a child psychologist.

If, however, he describes his thinking as just free-flowing, creative, “processing-type” thoughts, then it may just be a more regular form of daydreaming, that he just happens to associate with being in the kitchen. I wonder what would happen if you interrupted the “skipping in the kitchen”? Would he mind, or would he become upset? Again, if he feels upset at being interrupted, it may suggest that the behaviour has more meaning and that he feels he “must” do it.

It might be interesting to help him notice that he does seem to have this “skipping in the kitchen” habit and see if he is aware of it himself.  Then, if you have a go at interrupting the skipping, while acknowledging that it is okay to be daydreaming, you can see what his reaction is. If he is not bothered by the interruption and is easily distracted back to other activities, then there is unlikely to be a problem. If he is very upset, then it may be another indicator that getting some outside help is warranted.