What Are the Causes of Daydreaming in Children at School?

A child who isn't challenged may drift off during study sessions.
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Unlike obviously noticeable behavior issues such as opposition or defiance, daydreaming during class is a more subtle problem. Inattention during daydreaming periods can quickly interfere with the student's ability to learn and retain new information and participate in classroom activities. If you're trying to help your student to stop this behavior, understanding the root causes first allows you to better solve the problem.

1 Depression and Anxiety

While daydreaming may seem fairly small when it comes to the scale of possible problems that children have during the school day, it may indicate a real issue. Mind wandering is associated with lower degrees of psychological well-being, including depression and anxiety, according to the article "Using the Daydreaming Frequency Scale to Investigate the Relationships Between Mind-Wandering, Psychological Well-Being, and Present-Moment Awareness" in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. While this isn't true in every case, if you notice that the daydreaming student exhibits other signs of depression or anxiety you'll need to contact the school counselor and parents for further evaluation. These signals may include low energy, tearfulness, extreme sensitivity to failure, problems with social relationships or a major change in attitude along with inattention, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

2 Lack of a Challenge

When a child is academically gifted, or the course material is underperforming, he may daydream during school time. The lack of an educational challenge may lead a student to drift off into his own thoughts, losing attention and focus. Gifted children, especial those with attention deficit disorders, may lose focus and concentration in an understimulating academic environment. These children need a challenge that goes above and beyond the typical lesson or rote worksheets to keep them focused and stop the daydreaming.

3 Challenge Conflicts

On the opposite end of the "bored by classwork that's too easy" spectrum is the child who loses focus and daydreams because the work is too hard. For example, imagine a student who hasn't developed the abstract thinking skills necessary to solve complex mathematics problems. Instead of asking for help, she may feel flustered and drift off into a daydream. This is a form of mental escape that allows the child to leave the challenging situation without physically getting up and walking out.

4 Creative Personality

In all fairness to daydreamers, not every instance of scholastic inattention signals a problem. While daydreaming in itself can quickly interfere with classroom lessons, the cause isn't always a negative issue. Some children daydream because they have a creative or more imaginative type of personalty than others, according to cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. The child may act out imaginary scenarios in his head or express his creative side by constantly coming up with fictional stories in his mind. Although this type of daydreaming is just as difficult to deal with as the kind that's caused by other more serious issues, you can channel the child's creative intentions. These personality types may need more opportunities to express themselves creatively, such as writing fictional prose or creating art projects.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.