My 8-year-old daughter is very creative, but sometimes she loses track of time. She will get the idea to make a house out of cardboard and cotton for her fairies just before bed. Or she will want to stay in the shower for an hour and a half (with the water off a lot of the time) making steam drawings on the wall or calling me to see the flowers she made from the gel foam. I don't want to dampen her spirit, but it is frustrating when she is so caught up in her fantasies that she has trouble coming to the dinner table or getting ready for bed.
At a time when so many parents reach out to me because they can't get their kids to unplug from their electronic devices without a fight, I must say that I found your question wonderfully reassuring. Thank goodness there are still children making fairy houses with cardboard and cotton, rather than virtually on a screen with drag and drop elements! Here are my thoughts:
• Celebrate your daughter. While highly creative children can be challenging insofar as they often lose track of time or have trouble with mundane tasks, many of us have forgotten that children are not supposed to be miniature adults -- despite the fact that we often treat them that way. Your daughter is being an 8-year old. Encourage and enjoy her fanciful nature while it is alive and well.
• Gently help her manage her time. It would be great if your daughter could wander down to the dinner table when she's good and ready, but I do believe that family dinners are important, and would encourage you to help her start her shower early enough so that she has had her fun and is prepared to join the rest of you when the evening meal is served.
• Acknowledge disappointment. While I admire your daughter's desire to provide shelter for her fairies, there will unfortunately be times when she cannot begin a new project because of the lateness of the hour. Rather than trying to use logic to convince her that she should have thought of the fairy house an hour earlier, simply acknowledge her disappointment. "It sounds like you were hoping you could build it right now, even thought it's bedtime. It's hard to have such a great idea and know that you have to wait till tomorrow to act on it."
• Provide generous stretches of unstructured playtime. Before the advent of electronic diversions -- video games, ipads, cell phones and "educational" computer games -- children's imaginations provided hours of entertainment. Those of us before the digital era have countless stories to tell (usually beginning with, "When I was your age...") about how we transformed a box into a spaceship, or created imaginary towns with flower petals as the villagers. These days, children are so highly overscheduled that they find it easiest to veg out in front of a screen at the end of a full day. Give your daughter plenty of the unstructured time she relishes to invent, create and imagine.
• Keep an eye on how she is doing academically. Some highly imaginative children have trouble in school. They may be chronic day dreamers, preferring their rich fantasy life to a boring lesson on multiplication. Make sure your daughter is able to focus in class, and help her use a system for staying organized and on top of her homework assignments.
Childhood is so very brief. Many kids are being propelled toward grown up life far sooner than one would hope. I commend you for whatever you have done to help your daughter enjoy these years of joyful play, and urge you to help preserve her sense of wonder and joy at the simple pleasures of life. If you're lucky, some of her magic may rub off on you!
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting. To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.
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