Son has head in the clouds, steps into street
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: My son can’t get his head out of the clouds. (He’s 9.) He has a wonderful imagination and is always dreaming up big ideas, which is not the problem. I actually love that about him, and I tell him all the time. But so often, he seems far away. When he’s working on something, you can tell he’s daydreaming about something else. Like when I ask him to help around the house, he says ‘Sure!’. But then it takes him an hour to do something simple, like taking out the recycling. The worst is when he puts himself in danger, like when he doesn’t realize he’s stepping into a street. I know I need to help him with this, but I don’t know how.
MARY SAYS: I applaud you for recognizing the gift in your son’s dreaminess—his wonderful imagination and big ideas. I’m guessing your son is seldom bored, and that he’s able to creatively manage hardships by spinning stories that soothe. Dreamy children can often enjoy themselves, even when those around them aren’t.
But when a child unwittingly steps off a curb into the path of an oncoming car, that endearing quality of ‘dreaminess’ has turned into a liability. What you’re probably finding is that no matter how often you cajole, scold, or yank your son out of harm’s way, he continues to drift off, forgetting yet again to pay attention—in school, in conversations, and when stepping off a curb.
The first step is to talk to him about the issue. While you may have told him in frustration when he’s dawdling or carelessly wandering off, make this a pointed conversation, one where the two of you are sitting down, facing each other. You will want his full attention. Let him know you love him exactly the way he is, and how lucky he is that his mind is such a happy place. Tell him also that his mind is a tool, one for telling stories, creative solving problems, and for paying attention, and that you’d like to help him sharpen the ‘paying attention’ part.
What your son needs is a practice to help him stay present when presence is called for.
When people are too dreamy, they’re often out of touch with their surroundings. Touch, sight, hearing, and taste are all faculties your son can use to dial into the real world whenever he needs to.
Encourage your son to watch his feet on the sidewalk, leaves blowing across the yard, and to identify sounds he hears. (Traffic can be one of these!) Have him notice how water feels on his fingertips, and how a cool breeze tickles his scalp. While these simple gestures may sound basic, for someone who’s always lost in thought, they’re not.
You’ll want to practice with your son until you see him relying more on his senses without prompting from you. You’ll know it’s working when he stops misplacing his backpack, and he starts making comments on what he saw on the way home from school. But you know it’s really working when you see him look both ways before crossing the street, every time.
ERIKA SAYS: First, I love that your little guy is an imaginative boy! I have a son as well, and his well-developed imagination is one of the many things I love about him. But I also understand and see first-hand how an over-active imagination can be a distraction. I have to say I am a bit relieved to hear you’re facing the same struggles I went through. It was hard for my son to stay on task, just like yours. Simple things like putting clothes in his hamper, or even getting undressed for a shower caused friction between us.
I found myself getting frustrated with him often, sometimes raising my voice. I had to remind myself that he simply wasn’t ready to carry out what was asked of him without supervision. This helped me extend grace and not get so frustrated with him. So, I took a step back and found ways to not discourage and diminish his imagination while teaching him that staying on task when asked to do something is very important, especially when it comes to safety.
I remind my son often that delayed obedience is disobedience. “Even though you have completed a chore I gave you an hour ago, you didn’t honor my request at the time I asked you to do it.,” I tell him. “Therefore, I can’t reward you.”
We have a Melissa and Doug Responsibility Chart where he earns happy faces for completing a task in a timely manner. I use this along with a handy dandy timer. When I ask him to do something, I set the timer to help keep him on track. This is how it works:
- I ask him to brush his teeth while I get his clothes prepared for school. We set up a two-minute timer on our Alexa and he gets to brushing.
- If I notice he gets off track I give him a gentle reminder that he needs to be brushing his teeth.
- If I notice he gets off track again I give him a warning that it’s my last time asking him to brush his teeth.
- If I must give him a third reminder, he has lost his happy face for that task on that day.
When he gets upset, we have a conversation about it. I might say something like: “I love that you have an amazing imagination, and it’s my favorite thing about you. At this time, though, I asked you to brush your teeth and you didn’t honor my request. Therefore, I can’t reward you for your disobedience.”
Another thing I noticed was that I needed to be in the room supervising to make sure he was completing the task asked of him. This was super frustrating for me because…well, If I must supervise, I may as well do it myself. But as it turned out, this only had to happen for the first few weeks. The more I remained consistent, the easier it was for him to carry out a chore while remaining focused.
When it comes to things like crossing the street and staying safe, that was an easy one for me. My son is terrified of going to the doctor, blood, or anything related to getting hurt. When I stress that something can result in a serious injury, he is super cautious about it. Things like crossing the street, I don’t sugarcoat what can happen. I tell him if he isn’t paying attention, he can be hit by a car, resulting in broken bones, serious injuries, and even death.
Having continuous conversations about making safe choices helps—and praising him for making them. With tons of patience, grace, consistency, and praise, I believe you can get your little boy focused and still allow his imagination run wild
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.