Imaginary Friends: Should you be Concerned?

Should I be concerned if my child has an Imaginary Friend?

Answer: NO, you shouldn’t be concerned if your child has an imaginary friend!

In fact, imaginary friends are very common. A study conducted by the University of Washington and University of Oregon psychologists found by age seven, 65% of children have had an imaginary friend at some point in their lives!

Here’s what you need to know:

Myth: Children are living in a world of confusion and truly think their imaginary friend is alive.

     Fact: Children know their imaginary friend isn’t real. They are able to separate fantasy from real life! This phase is all pretend and make-believe.

Myth: Imaginary friends show loneliness or lack of social skills in a child.

     Fact: Children with imaginary friends are actually exercising their imaginations. Research shows children with imaginary friends are very social, engage in more laughing and smiling with peers, and have a sophisticated understanding of how others may feel or think. 

Myth: Children who have imaginary friends are troubled.

     Fact: Having an imaginary friend does not show a child is troubled. However, if a child has experienced a traumatic event or difficulties in life, an imaginary friend may comfort him/her. 

Myth: An imaginary friend is a made up character that cannot be seen by adults.

     Fact: Imaginary friends can be an “invisible friend,” but it can also be a stuffed animal, action figure, or other toy with its “own distinct personality.”

Parents, grandparents, caretakers, and grown-ups around the world, rest assured; imaginary friends are just another part of childhood development! It may seem silly, but here are some actions you can take to respond to your child’s imaginary friend:

  1. Ask questions about your child’s imaginary friend. Listen to his/her response; you may learn something about your child’s interests, desires, hopes, dreams, concerns, or fears.
  2. Don’t let the imaginary friend allow your child to misbehave. Imaginary friends sometimes have the tendency to be the  “culprit” when it comes to accidents. You can tell your child things like “I don’t care who did it, you need to clean it up,” or “Aunt Edna is coming to dinner so you’ll have to find a different place for your friend to sit.”
  3. If it’s not too much trouble, play along. Set an extra table setting for the imaginary friend if your child asks, but remember this is your child’s imagination–let them be in charge!

Resources: Psychology Today, Science of Us, and Today’s Parent.





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