Many children, as their reasoning ability develops, find it difficult to reconcile what they imagine with reality, and, as Jersild pointed out, what might have been a fine time is spoiled. In a poorly adjusted child, however, self-insight is not well developed. As a result, he does not recognize incongruities between reality and products of the imagination. Furthermore, because of his poor social adjustments, he spends much time alone; this encourages him to become self-bound-a tendency which fosters unrealistic thinking about himself. Consequently, he derives enjoyment from daydreaming much longer than a better-adjusted child of equal intellectual ability.
Although children's daydreams may have any imaginable setting and may relate to any activity, two major varieties are most popular-the "conquering- hero" and the "suffering-hero" types. In the former, the child sees himself as he would like to be in real life. Whether he is a cow-boy, an athletic hero, or an aviator who is the first person to reach the moon will depend upon his interests and wishes. The important aspect of the dream is that it centers around him, and every other character pays homage to him.
In the "suffering-hero" daydream, the dream centers around a child who is a martyr, misunderstood and mistreated by parents, teachers, siblings, peers, or society in general. The satisfaction comes from the happy ending, in which the martyr turns out to be a hero. Furthermore, those who have misunderstood or mistreated the hero not only are penitent but want to do all within their power to compensate for the physical or mental pain they have inflicted on him. Consequently, the suffering hero is treated even more favorably than the conquering hero; to the adulation of others is added penitence for their wrongdoing.
The child who is poorly adjusted derives keen satisfaction from such daydreams because they show him that he is right and others are wrong. He thus frees himself from any feelings of guilt or inadequacy for not having gained the social acceptance he craves. As children approach puberty and begin to develop antisocial attitudes, "suffering-hero" daydreams predominate.
They are almost universal during puberty. However pleasurable such daydreams may be, and however much they free the child from self-doubts and feelings of inadequacy, they are an unhealthy form of play. They tend to exaggerate an already existing belief that "nobody loves me" and to build up antisocial attitudes that intensify the child's poor social adjustments. The child is still faced with a series of problems: He has not learned how to assess himself realistically, he is unwilling to accept himself as he is, and he continues to have unhealthy attitudes toward people and social situations.
For too many children, daydreaming becomes a favorite pastime. It can be engaged in at any time, and it requires no equipment, playmates, or even physical exertion. In no other play is ego-satisfaction so complete. In no other way can one so thoroughly get away from the commonplace experiences of daily life and relieve the boredom life often brings.
Daydreaming is especially satisfying when one's daily life at school or home is monotonous and ego-threatening. For the child who is unhappy and dissatisfied with himself and his role in life, escape into his daydream world is the bright spot of the day. In this private world everything goes as he wants it to go; he is complete master of the situation. Although reading, listening to the radio, and watching television may provide escape from boredom and general dissatisfaction, they do not give the child this ego-inflating experience.
The child who finds satisfaction in daydreams learns to avoid being critical about them. He must make a choice between seeing the daydream as an impossible experience and seeing himself as he would like to be. For a dissatisfied and unhappy child, this choice is an easy one; he chooses the path that leads to the greatest satisfaction. For the happy, well-adjusted child, the need to escape reality is not so great; therefore, he engages in daydreams only when he is bored or has had an experience that, temporarily, makes him feel inadequate.