In spite of the pleasure a child derives from daydreaming, it is unquestionably one of the most dangerous forms of play, if not the most dangerous. Physically, it is harmful to the well-being of a child to sit around and daydream instead of engaging in play which requires exercise of the body. Also, daydreams often give rise to a strong emotional state. Emotional disturbances are more likely to happen in "suffering-hero" daydreams than in the "conquering-hero" variety.
The psychological damage of daydreaming is far more serious than the physiological. The child who derives enough satisfaction from his daydreams to prefer them to other play soon develops a romanticized concept of himself which is far removed from reality. The more he dislikes his real self, the more he lives in his world of daydreams, where he can see himself as he would like to be. This contributes to the poor adjustment that led him into excessive daydreaming; a vicious circle is then set in motion.
Just as excessive daydreaming leads to poor personal adjustments, so does it lead to poor social adjustments. The daydreamer rarely has good self-insight. Not seeing himself as he is, he cannot understand why people do not treat him in accordance with what he believes to be his superiority, and he shows this resentment in his treatment of them. Trapped by these unfavorable attitudes, the child makes poorer and poorer social adjustments as time goes on. The result is that he finds himself with fewer and fewer friends and more and more enemies.
Just as too much daydreaming is unhealthy, so is too little. The child who lacks the ability to imagine himself as he would like to be must be content to see himself as he is. This image is rarely to his liking. Some daydreams may inspire the child to duplicate in real life what has happened in his daydream world. A child who sees himself as an athletic hero, for example, may work hard to develop the skills needed to make him a hero in real life. Likewise, every child needs some morale booster when he is discouraged and when his attempts to achieve success have failed or have gone unrecognized. Seeing himself as a conquering hero can increase his motivation to continue trying until he finally reaches his goal. Without such a morale booster, the child might let his anxieties and frustrations get so strong a hold on him that they would dominate his life.
If a child does not daydream, he will be deprived of the pleasure daydreaming can bring to a life that is not entirely to one's satisfaction. Children who daydream too little—and they are in the minority-may not have the intellectual capacity to imagine things that are not actually happening, or they may not have the knowledge from which daydreams can be fashioned. A child who lacks opportunities to read, to watch television, or to see movies, for example, must fashion his daydreams on the building materials he has information about everyday experiences in his own life. These materials are inadequate to make daydreams that will be satisfying.
Children who are kept so busy from the time they waken in the morning until they go to bed at night, with "extras" imposed by ambitious parents or by parents who need their help, will have little free time for mental play. Often, what free time they have will not be used for daydreaming because they will be too tired, both physically and mentally, to engage in play which requires the mental effort that daydreaming does.
Finally, too little daydreaming may result from feelings of guilt on the child's part. If a child has been reproved or punished for "white lies"-imaginary experiences that are so realistic they are believed to be real and are reported as such-his desire to engage in any imaginative thinking will be curbed for fear of reproof or punishment. He will be conditioned to regard all use of the imagination as wrong because he has learned to associate it with social disapproval.