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