Excessive Daydreaming in Children: What Is It and What Are the Risks?

Excessive daydreaming leads children to inhabit an imaginary world of fantasies and to neglect their relationships and daily chores.
Excessive Daydreaming in Children: What Is It and What Are the Risks?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 03 April, 2023

Imagination is one of the most characteristic features of childhood. It’s natural to observe children creating fictitious scenarios in their minds, representing characters, and applying symbolic play. This is all part of their development, encourages their creativity, and helps them to overcome fears. It also helps them acquire skills and gain confidence in life. However, excessive daydreaming in children can be a problem that should be addressed.

In reality, we all daydream at some point. Sometimes we use our imagination to visualize what our future will be like. At other times, we get carried away by the plot of a good book or our favorite movie. There are several ways in which children and adults escape from reality for short periods of time, and this isn’t a risk. However, when this exercise gains in intensity and frequency, it can become a disorder.

What is excessive daydreaming in children?

The term Maladaptive Daydreaming was suggested in 2002 by the Israeli psychologist Eli Somer. It refers to a person’s frequent and intense immersion in daydreams and fantasies, which hinders daily functioning.

It’s a dynamic that’s observed in people of all ages and, very often, it begins in childhood. As we said, it’s not simply daydreaming, but excessive daydreaming in children has some particular characteristics. We’ll tell you about them below.

It occupies a large amount of time

All children are creative and imaginative and use symbolic play as a form of entertainment and learning. But, in this case, daydreaming is very frequent and occupies more than 50% of the time. Therefore, it becomes the preferred and chosen exercise over other options such as spending time with family, playing with friends, or other leisure activities.

An Asian boy sitting in class, daydreaming.
Excessive daydreaming isn’t just another form of entertainment, but takes up much of a person’s time and negatively influences their ability to meet daily commitments.

It involves specific facilitating rituals

People tend to daydream, especially when performing automatic tasks that free the higher brain functions. For example, when bathing, picking up toys, or walking down the street, it’s not rare for children to seem to be in the clouds and lost in their own thoughts.

In contrast, when we speak of excessive daydreaming, there’s a deliberate effort to generate those situations that are conducive to dreaming. For example, children seek to stay alone, take walks, or listen to music in order to generate and nurture those scenarios and that fictional story.

It’s an intense and immersive experience

When imagining, these children engage all their senses and become deeply immersed in their mental storytelling. In that way, they experience it vividly. In addition, they can emotionally bond with their characters and emit grimaces, gestures, or words while daydreaming. This indicates that they’re truly engaged in their daydreaming.

It generates a need

This imaginative mental activity can become a kind of addiction, meaning that the child wants and needs to escape into their imaginary world frequently. When they’re unable to do so or when some external element interrupts their reverie, they become upset and irritable. They then try to return to what they were doing as soon as possible.

Children often prefer daydreaming to fulfilling their obligations or socializing with others. They may even neglect eating, sleeping, or personal hygiene.

It interferes with daily functioning

The clearest sign that excessive daydreaming in children becomes a problem is when it prevents them from functioning normally in their daily lives. For example, they may show attention and concentration problems that affect school performance. Also, they may be lazy and tend to procrastinate all their tasks.

How to intervene in excessive daydreaming in children?

If you detect that a child shows the above signs, it’s important to understand why they resort to excessive daydreaming. Generally, this is a mechanism used to avoid a reality that’s painful, lacking, or too challenging. It has been observed to be associated with homes where there’s abuse and neglect, and is also more present in shy and withdrawn children and those with social difficulties and problems coping with their emotions and daily challenges.

Therefore, the causes will have to be identified in order to be able to intervene appropriately. In general, EMDR therapy and cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy can help alleviate symptoms. The intervention aims to reconnect the child with their reality and involve them in it by controlling time and triggering stimuli, as well as improving their habits and establishing activities aligned with their interests.

In any case, it’s important to consult a professional who can identify the origin of this excessive daydreaming and propose guidelines to follow.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Somer, E. (2002). Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy32, 197-212.
  • Somer, E., Lehrfeld, J., Bigelsen, J., & Jopp, D. S. (2016). Development and validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). Consciousness and cognition39, 77-91.
  • Somer, E. (2018). Maladaptive daydreaming: Ontological analysis, treatment rationale; a pilot case report. Frontiers in the Psychotherapy of Trauma and Dissociation1(2), 1-22.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.