A ballet dancer in a pink tutu. A cupcake with a candle in it. The continent of Africa. A galloping horse. Clouds lend themselves to delicious daydreaming.

Does your child have time to be alone with her thoughts? A daydream allows the mind to wander, tapping into past experiences, newly learned ideas, complicated emotions and imaginative solutions. In an overly scheduled life, time to be alone with one's thoughts may be scarce. When does your child sort through decision-making, mull over misdeeds and meditate about the possibilities of her future?

Where Does the Time Go?

There are 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 12 months in a year, and in no time at all those years add up to the end of childhood. Slow down! If you try to cram in too many scheduled obligations, your daughter could miss out on a truly special relationship―being in touch with herself.

Sometimes a child can cause her own overbooking. Sure, she wants to progress to toe shoes and become a professional ballet dancer. Sure, she'd like to advance to star basketball player and make a career as an athlete. Sure, she'd love to master the latest robotics technology. But having a weekly commitment to all these activities on top of homework and chores leaves no time to think.

If she is in her elementary school years, she needs 10 to 11 hours of sleep and enough time for at least one family meal each day. Then you have to work in school, commuting time, homework, perhaps one or two weekly activities, chores, time to play with friends―and the rest needs to be loose enough so your child can spend some time hearing her own thoughts. One rationale for scheduling so much of a child's time is the parent's worry that her child will have a gap with "nothing to do." Boredom can lead to whining to the parent, pestering a sibling and similarly exasperating behaviors. But it can also lead to creative thinking and other amazing discoveries from your child's inner world.

What's There to Think About?

Unfettered time is when your daughter can ponder the important issues: friendships, mean teachers, her role in the family and the contributions she can make to the world of the future. She can reflect on her current interests, contemplate her feelings and compare her perspective to those of some of her peers.

Past the age of 7 years, children are capable of imagining what others think and feel. Their friendships become deep and strong as they become more adept at considering how their actions could affect someone else. They are ready to make friends with children at school and in the community who are different in some ways but similar in others. Some thought goes into making themselves attractive to well-chosen friends. Children make mistakes, though. Hurt feelings run rampant in the middle years of childhood. There are social gaffes, betrayals and unwritten rules about who can and who can't be popular. A birthday snub could require major repair work to salvage a friendship. ("If you invite her I won't come!") There are also apologies, unexpected kindnesses and heroics going on. Valuable lessons can be learned sifting through thoughtful observations of the social scene.

Think About School

Since school itself will take up a significant portion of your child's waking hours, it is another focus for her thoughts. Through school work, she can discover some of her strengths and become aware of her weaknesses. Competence in school is measured outwardly by teacher comments, test scores and grades, and inwardly by self-satisfaction. After having a few teachers to compare, your child will be evaluating the teachers, too. They can be nice or mean, deal fairly or play favorites. Studying a teacher's behavior can help a child succeed in that class, and introspection about constant difficulties with a particular subject or teacher can lead to seeking help.

Think About Family

Family life, with all its ups and downs, is often in the thoughts of a school-age child. She may think about what she likes and dislikes about being oldest, youngest, in the middle, or an only child. She may embrace the traditions, values, religious beliefs and ethnic identity of her family, or she may be starting to question whether she will continue to hold them as dear. She may imagine a future home life much like the one she is experiencing, or one much different. Keenly aware of the prevalence of divorce and other family types, children notice variations among their friends' family compositions and also keep an eye on their own parents' model of adult relationships. Knowing what she might like to have in the way of a future family life helps your child work her way toward it.

Think About the Future

As for future employment, your child should spend some time picturing herself in one career field or another well in advance of college planning. It's a good idea introduce her to a wide range of professions―through everyday outings, children's literature, news stories and informal interviews with adult friends and relatives. Even if she changes her major or makes a major career shift down the road, daydreaming about an occupation lets her see if it feels like a good fit.

How Does Thinking Happen?

Periods of self-reflection can occur naturally during quiet, undemanding activities. For example, if your child has the responsibility of walking the family's well-behaved dog she might find her mind effortlessly wandering through a review of today's friendly conversation with the new girl at the bus stop. "Carlesa? Clarissa? Could be friend material. See if she remembers my name tomorrow. I'll wear my sweater that looks like the one she was wearing today so she knows I liked hers."

Other thinking times present themselves in routine activities such as riding in the car to dance class and lounging in a bubble bath. Your child could make a "thinking place" in her room, on the porch or on the backyard swing. Learn to recognize and respect when she's deep in thought.

If you think she needs prompting, you might pose some good questions. Answers don't have to be immediate or even spoken aloud. Follow along the lines of topics above―friends, school, family, careers―or other subjects that arise in your child's life. For example, Clarissa's family has invited your daughter to join them on a trail ride at the family farm. But she seems very uncertain. She's never been on a horse before. She and Clarissa have only been friends for a few weeks. Ask your daughter to think about all the parts of this experience that she's comfortable with―and all the parts that make her uncertain. What would she need to know or to feel in order to accept the invitation? How would she decline the invitation? Would she and Clarissa still be friends? Is there anything you could do to help her with this decision? (In sorting through her thoughts and feelings, she might think of asking Clarissa if they could do something else together at the farm, or take a very short ride, or if it would be okay to bring her mom or dad along!)

An interesting exercise for helping children tune into their thoughts and feelings is a Thought Parade. Amy Saltzman, M.D. teaches "mindfulness" to children by helping them find "The Still Quiet Place" within. She asks them to close their eyes and imagine their thoughts are parading by. Some thoughts are "loud and brightly dressed" compared to other thoughts. The objective is to merely observe and not to get swept up into the parade itself. Saltzman says, "This practice supports children in watching their thoughts without believing them or taking them personally," which allows a child to make a more rational―less emotionally reactive―decision.

Children need time and a "Still Quiet Place" to pay attention to themselves.