Published in ‘Parenting’ Magazine, Issue 25, Winter 2006

Are you parenting a dreamer?

Are you parenting a dreamer?
Daydream Believer

Sue Blair contemplates the challenges facing parents of ‘dreamers’. She suggests that these sometimes complex children have qualities that can become real assets in a family. Their ‘different’ way of thinking is something to be worked with, not against.

Do you feel like your child has his ‘head in the clouds’?

Do your child’s teachers ever ask if your child has had her hearing tested recently?

If you had a dollar for every time your child leaves an essential item behind would you be exceedingly wealthy?

Have you ticked every box on the “Does your child have ADD?” surveys?

Is preparing to leave the house for school a daily exercise in frustration? (yours not your childs’)

Do you often feel like shouting “You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t get it together!”

If you answered “yes” to most or all of the above…welcome to my world. We are the parents of ‘dreamers’. Those loveable, creative, imaginative, whimsical children who drive us to distraction.

My ‘dreamer’ is currently 8 years old. What makes our life together a challenge is that I am his opposite – a ‘do-er’. My life has dead-lines, structure, a delightful routine and a handbag full of lists without which I couldn’t cope. My son’s life is unhindered by a desire to conform in any way. His selective hearing, although aggravating, can often be misinterpreted as mischievous. His busy mind is not vacant but actively distracted by a thought that passed through his brain waving a flag that simply couldn’t be ignored. I adore him and yet I worry how it will all turn out in the end. My research has lead me to breathe more easily: there is evidence that he will be OK, even in a world that appears to value ‘do-ers’. Things that seem like liablities can become assets!

Parenting a ‘dreamer’ is not easy. They are complex children. They are fun to be around but do things that other children wouldn’t dream of. They have a great imagination, but imagine not only the ideal but the disaster.

I love the story of the little girl who was doing a test and was shown a picture of a bird in a cage. When asked “What is it?” she replied “It’s sad.” This was marked as incorrect,as the ‘proper’ answer was “It’s a bird in a cage”. This sort of scenario so often occurs with dreamer children; in reality they are one step ahead, but they get penalised for it.

The ‘dreamer’ personality’s primary needs are choice, freedom and being allowed to learn from their mistakes. They need a good measure of all of these in order to thrive. Although they can enjoy acting the clown, there is a fine line between being found entertaining and being laughed at. They are very sensitive to being teased.

Over the years I have learned a few techniquies that have worked better than others.

Help him to see that his behaviour is a choice

Describe the positive consequences of a good choice and the negative consequences of a bad choice. But do apply the consequence. The negative consequences should be reasonable but definitely undesirable and specifically designed for each child. You need to find the ‘currency’ that works when negotiating with your child. For some, withdrawal of TV or computer time works, for others this has no impact at all, as their vivid imagination will simply find something else with which to occupy themselves. You need to know what matters to them and use it as a bargaining tool. This is not manipulation it is good guidance, and it works!

Brainstorm creative solutions with your child, to try to avoid future recurrences

It’s important that your dreamer child understands the purpose of what they are being asked to do, otherwise he will resisit the chore. Use mind-maps, diagrams, even cartoons to help you with this – as these kids love visuals. Most dreamers don’t start out in life wanting to rebel, but they may become oppositional through being made to conform too rigidly; they just expect some flexibility.

Keep calm – ‘dreamers’ will make many bad choices

The hardest thing for a ‘do-er’ parent is to watch your child making a mistake, as it is something we do-ers avoid like the plague. Our instinct is to protect tour child from mistakes at all costs, often interfering in their exploration and fascination with the world. Many ‘dreamers’ are perfectly happy to run back to the drawing board and start again. Don’t let your child miss out on this valuable learning experience because of your own need to be perfect.

Teach time-management

Dreamers wide-focus makes them highly distractible and they often lack any concept of time. Teaching time-management skills by using a timer, with rewards for compliance, is a good idea. Reward compliance with a fun activity of their choice, a novelty toy/ favourite food or free-time.

Time-out has limited success

When placed in a room to re-think their bad behaviour they will be distracted by their surroundings and find a new way to entertain themselves. I used to put my ‘dreamer’ in our laundry room where he was upset for a few seconds before discovering the many delights of what I thought was a boring space. I remember extracting him very smartly when he put his gumboots in the tumble dryer! The way to tell if time-out is working (or indeed any discipline strategy) is to ask yourself if your child’s behaviour is changing. If, after three weeks of consistent effort, it is not, you must find another way.

My ‘dreamer’s’ journey through school life has been interesting. He adored the flexibility of pre-school and had a ball. As he approached five years of age the adults in his life made constant reference to how much he would enjoy school and I held my breath, knowing that it was unlikely to be his finest hour. After three weeks he ‘hit a wall’ and decided that school was very definitely not for him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he only had another thirteen years to go! Things have improved since then, and with a couple of very gifted teachers he has survived thus far.

The ‘dreamer’ in the classroom

The ‘dreamer’ in the classroom has specific needs. At the core of many school problems is the ‘dreamer’ belief that all learning should be fun. ‘Dreamers’ can learn anything if it is turned into a game. The best solution is for them to be taught by teachers who are dreamers themselves or a teacher who is able to find creative teaching solutions. ‘Dreamers’ will work for teachers who believe in them. There are likely to be only four or five ‘dreamer’ children in a class of 30 but their needs should be understood and met. Sometimes a ‘dreamer’ is purposely placed in a class with a ‘do-er’ teacher to enforce structure and discipline. This is rarely successful and both teacher and student become frustrated.

I said earlier that there is hope for our ‘dreamers’ and I truly believe this to be the case. The early school years are difficult and parental involvement is essential to your child’s success. However, as the ‘dreamer’ moves through school and on to college they are able to specialise in subjects that interest and inspire them. Their innate ability to think laterally, research and explore finally finds a place to thrive.

We are indeed blessed with these children. As long as we take more time to enjoy them and less time restricting them they will blossom to reach their potential and be valued. The best thing we can say to our children is “This is who you are, and it’s great!”

(My thanks to Dr Dana Scott Spears and Dr Ron L Braund for their book “Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer?” Essential reading for all parents of dreamers!)

Note from Sue: I am delighted if you have enjoyed and gained value from this article. Please feel free to suggest to friends to visit the website too.

However, should you wish to publish it, please contact me.


©Copyright 2007, Personality Dynamics Ltd.