Imaginary Friends - What's Normal and What Isn't?

Updated on November 19, 2014
Hobbes is probably the most famous imaginary friend there is.
Hobbes is probably the most famous imaginary friend there is. | Source

I was playing in the living room. My mom overheard me talking to someone so she came over to check who it was. There was no one in the room except me. She became curious

Mother: “Who are you talking to?”

Me: “I’m talking to Danny.”

Mother (amused): “And who is Danny?”

Me: “He’s my friend.”

Mother, thinking that it was so cute that I had an imaginary friend and wanting to join in my imaginary world, asks: “Is Danny hungry? Can I bring you and Danny some cookies?”

Me: “Danny doesn’t eat. Danny is dead.”

At this point my mother was speechless and gaping at me with terrified eyes. This incident had gone from being cute and cuddly to being outright creepy. It took her a while to regain her wits, at which point she headed for the telephone and called her older sister. She was desperately looking for some advice that did not include tying garlic and wind chimes in every corner of the house to scare away evil spirits.

My aunt’s advice was simple: Get her some friends.

Why do Children Have Imaginary Friends?

Seven out of 10 children under 7 years old will have an imaginary friend. Why? Because imaginary friends help a child understand the new reality they are faced with as they grow up. They help the child adjust to this crazy, chaotic world. In fact, imaginary friends can help the child in several ways:

  • They help children free their feelings: negative and positive.
  • They help children project their conflicts, fears and phobias onto the imaginary friend. For example, they may say: “Mom, Timmy (imaginary friend) does not want to poop in the toilet.” What they’re really saying is that they themselves are afraid to leave diapers behind.
  • They can help a child to regulate his emotions. For example, let’s say Timmy is having a hard time sharing his toys. You may choose this opportunity to ask your child why is Timmy having such a hard time sharing. Your child will be more willing to share why Timmy is having hard time if he doesn’t feel like he is being accused directly. Instead, Timmy is the one at fault and the one who needs correction. He can help Timmy share and in the process teach himself a lesson.

Children without siblings or children with intelligence above average are prone to having imaginary friends.
Children without siblings or children with intelligence above average are prone to having imaginary friends. | Source
  • They help children see other people’s viewpoint. Even if the friend is imaginary, your child is learning to see things from other people’s view point. If Timmy is scared of doing something, you can teach your child how to walk Timmy through a difficult situation so he will learn that there are more than just his way of doing things.
  • Imaginary friends can instill a sense of confidence in your child. Once he has walked his imaginary friend through a difficult situation, and once Timmy has succeeded, your child will see that fears or other problems are not obstacles that cannot be overcome.

Imaginary Friends and Development

Imaginary friends can play a very important role in the development of your child. By imagining people (as well as fantasy worlds) your child is better able to cope and handle the reality that now extends in from of him in a way that is more easily understood by his young mind.

Which Children Are More Likely to Have Imaginary Friends?

An imaginary friend could be a sign that your child may need some actual friends to play with. Children that are more likely to develop imaginary friends are children with no siblings, children with much older siblings, or children that spend too much time with adults.

Some studies have also shown that children with above average intelligence tend to develop imaginary friends.

If your child is feeling alone he might be more prone to having imaginary friends.
If your child is feeling alone he might be more prone to having imaginary friends. | Source

Imaginary Friends Have Real Benefits

Parents, there’s no reason to freak out if your child is talking to someone you can’t see. (I don’t mean internet chatting. That you should worry about...) In fact, imaginary friends can prove to be of great benefit for your child’s cognitive and social development. Here’s what studies have shown:


  • Children with imaginary friends have better social skills and are adept at making (real) friends.
  • They tend to be less shy and timid than other kids.
  • They develop communication skills that tend to be above average
  • They develop better reasoning and cognitive skills.
  • They become more creative and empathic adults

How Should Parents React To Imaginary Friends?

Just because your child is talking to someone you can’t hear or see doesn’t mean that you need to frantically run to the closest psychiatrist and fill your child with medication for schizophrenia or psychosis. Having an imaginary friend is quite common in children under 7 years old. However it is important that parents don’t interfere or ridicule their child for his productive imagination.

Even if you think that it’s cute and funny that your child has an imaginary friend, don’t stimulate or repress his relationship with “Timmy”. Simply observe so you can know if this friend is a good or bad influence on your child. By closely listening to the conversations that he has with his imaginary friend, you will be able to get to know your child better and you will be able to interfere when it becomes necessary.

Parents should also limit the amount of time that their child spends with their imaginary friend. Allow him to play and talk with “Timmy” but don’t let this relationship becomes the sole source of socializing. Take your child out to the park, play with him or take him to a place where there are plenty of children around his age.

Is your child spending too much time in her fantasy world?
Is your child spending too much time in her fantasy world? | Source

Imaginary Friends and The Arts

Studies show that children with imaginary friends grow to have more creative minds as adults and will be closer to the arts, poetry, music or any other type of artistic expression.

When Should You Worry?

Most children will outgrow their imaginary friends as soon as they start school or as soon as they find themselves around other children. However, even if your child’s imaginary buddy is still around while he is in school, there’s no real reason to worry, unless:

  • Your child is spending so much time in his fantasy world that he has no interest in interacting with his peers.
  • The imaginary friend is hindering his socialization with other children.
  • You start noticing that your child is acquiring aggressive behaviors because of this relationship.
  • His fantasy world becomes his reality.
  • The imaginary friend tells your child to do things that are dangerous to himself or others.

If you find any these characteristics in your child, seek the help of a specialist.

Keep learning and growing. Happy Living!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        apryljackson2013 

        3 weeks ago

        Hello,

        My child has an imaginary friend, but he is entering a new school is it normal for him to talk to his friend at school. I am a bit concerned, any advice on what should I do.

      • profile image

        Jaxie 

        3 months ago

        My mom wants to know if she should worry about her kid's imaginary friend. We're 60

      • profile image

        Rose & Jackie 

        3 months ago

        Hi, i'm looking for some help with my OWN imaginary friends, any advice?

      • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

        Silver Q 

        3 years ago

        Hi, brake12,

        thank you for your kind words!

      • brakel2 profile image

        Audrey Selig 

        3 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

        Hi - I also wrote a hub on imaginary friends. Your hub is extraordinary, as it delves into the subject quite thoroughly and gives lots of tips. I love to hear stories of the friends, some of which are very funny. Sometimes, I wish I had imaginary friends when I was younger. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey

      • Say Yes To Life profile image

        Yoleen Lucas 

        3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

        Ever read the book, "A Little Princess" by Frances Hodgson Burnett? Sarah Crewe, the protagonist, had a very active fantasy world. It helped her through an extremely troubling time. Movies have been made based on the book; one starred Shirley Temple, another came out in 1995 starring Liesel Matthews.

        I believe the author herself had an equally rich imagination, or she wouldn't have been able to write the book.

      • tanyathistleton profile image

        Tanya Thistleton 

        3 years ago from Victoria

        Great article - our son had Fred mosquito in the toilet who he used to talk to when on the toilet. Occasionally Fred would get the blame for things like toilet paper all over the floor. I never worried about it and was actually sad to hear that Fred has left our house :(.

      • justthemessenger profile image

        James C Moore 

        3 years ago from The Great Midwest

        I had a bad experience with my two imaginary friends. They started hanging around each other and dumped me. Ooh!:) How common is this? I ask this because I don't know of any of my childhood friends who admitted to having imaginary friends.

      • galleryofgrace profile image

        galleryofgrace 

        3 years ago from Virginia

        Exceptional information. My youngest son acquired an imaginary"monster", after the other four children had started school. I asked our doctor about it and he said don't worry.

        The only thing that worried me was when I sat in a chair where his friendly monster was and broke his leg. The doctor said that it was okay that I put an imaginary splint on his friends leg and apologized for sitting on him.

        He forgot all about him when he started school. That child is grown now and has proven to be very imaginative and creative.

      • Kelsey Farrell profile image

        Kelsey Elise Farrell 

        3 years ago from Orange County, CA

        This is great, I used to teach a little girl who wanted only to play with her imaginary dinosaur friends, her mom constantly asked if it was normal and I assured her that of course it is--she was 3!

      • Dbro profile image

        Dbro 

        3 years ago from Texas, USA

        Interesting article, Silver Q! I must admit to having imaginary friends as a child, and I do remember them helping me work out problems I had navigating the early elementary social scene. I'm not sure my parents realized I had these "friends," but I'm sure it wouldn't have freaked them out. They were seasoned vets by the time I came along. I am pleased at the notion that children with imaginary friends have a higher level of intelligence and creativity. Very flattering. As an artist, I hope it's true!

        Thanks again for a thought-provoking article.

      • RoadMonkey profile image

        RoadMonkey 

        3 years ago

        That must have given your mum quite a fright. Children didn't seem to have imaginary friends when I was young, at least I don't remember them having them.

      • DreamerMeg profile image

        DreamerMeg 

        3 years ago from Northern Ireland

        Very interesting. There must be more imaginary friends these days. Families used to be bigger and children closer together in age. We used to be able to play in the street with little likelihood of cars coming along. Now children are indoors with few siblings.

      • bluebird profile image

        bluebird 

        3 years ago

        Great story to start it off! And the pictures - excellent, very pleasing!

        Congrats on a great Hub of the Day! Keep 'em coming.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Great hub, Silver Q. Congrats on HOTD! This is useful for parents who have children that have imaginary friends, which seemed to be a phrase at some point. Voted up!

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 

        3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        Hi, a useful and interesting hub. I think most children go through this. I use to watch my grandson who was an only child and he use to have long conversations with his friend when he was in bed. He out grew this when he went to school. Its part of growing up.

      • Venkatachari M profile image

        Venkatachari M 

        3 years ago from Hyderabad, India

        Very great and useful article. You have done it so perfectly presenting real picture of the situation and giving good tips to manage it. Almost all children have imaginary friends or toys with whom they speak and interact. So, your article is very useful for parents in tackling the situation.

        Voted up, useful and awesome and sharing it on G+.

      • dingyskipper profile image

        Carolyn 

        3 years ago from Northamptonshire

        Well done , my sons friend was a snowman, always made me smile when he asked him to sit by the fire to warm up!

      • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

        Silver Q 

        4 years ago

        Hi Maggie.L:

        My mom said the same thing! :D Thank you for reading and commenting!!

      • Maggie.L profile image

        Maggie.L 

        4 years ago from UK

        A really useful article with reassuring advice for mums. I wish I'd known some of this when my kids were little . Great hub.

      • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

        Silver Q 

        4 years ago

        Hi jennakottman:

        I'm happy to hear that, even though this hub was completely irrelevant, you were still able to enjoy it. Thank you for reading and commenting! :)

      • jennakottman profile image

        Jenna Kottman 

        4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois

        Great article, very interesting...even though I do not have children and this is completely irrelevant to my life... happy to stumble upon this hub :)

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