According to psychologists, it is common for a young child to have an imaginary friend. They say that having an imaginary friend is a normal part of a child’s development. Twenty-five percent of children between two and five have an imaginary friend. This imaginary friend can be an invisible person, or it can be a personified toy such as a stuffed teddy bear.
Your child’s imaginary friend serves a purpose. Your child can talk to him or her, discuss, involve his or her friend in everyday activities, and take them to some of their favorite places. Your child may keep his or her imaginary friend for several months and even years.
According to a study done in 2004 by the University of Washington, by the age of seven 65 percent of children have created an imaginary friend at some time. Those children who are more likely to invent an imaginary friend are the oldest child or an only child of a family.
If you’re worried about your child having an imaginary friend, don’t. According to Michael Dickinson, a Canadian Pediatric Society spokesperson, a child having an imaginary friend isn’t a sign of a psychopathological deviation.
Instead, it is a fundamental part of a child’s development. Having an imaginary friend, allows your child to practice his or her social skills as he or she interacts with the friend he or she has created. These children usually cooperate better both with other children and adults than those who haven’t had an imaginary friend.
According to a registered psychologist in Calgary, Kimberly Eckert, children create imaginary friends to engage in imaginative play with them much the same way other children play with their action figures. Some children will create imaginary friends when they are lonely or bored. If a child is going through a big transition such as the birth of a sibling or adjusting to a new home and neighborhood, an imaginary friend can be a form of self-soothing. The imaginary friend provides a way for a child to practice his or her social skills in an environment they can control.
If your child is under seven years old, your child most likely has had an imaginary friend at one time or another. As your child matures, he or she will be faced with a reality never experienced. This is when his or her imaginary friend will help the child to adjust to the chaotic and crazy world of today.
There are several ways an imaginary friend can help your child:
· When your child has a positive or negative feeling, his or her imaginary friend will help the child to get free of these feelings.
· An imaginary friend will help your child with his or her fears, conflicts, and phobias. For instance, the child may tell you Billy, his or her imaginary friend, doesn’t want to poop in a toilet. In this instance, he or she is trying to tell you he or she doesn’t want to poop on the toilet.
· An imaginary friend can help your child face his or her emotions. For instance, he may tell you Billy, his or her imaginary friend, doesn’t want to share. What he or she is trying to tell you is that he or she doesn’t want to share toys. Therefore, it isn’t him or her who doesn’t want to share. The person is at fault is Billy and not your child.
Your children may believe their relationship with an imaginary friend is just as important as the relationships they have with real peers or people.
As a parent, the following guidelines may help you:
You should accept the imaginary friend.
Don’t tell your child that this imaginary friend does not exist. If you accept the existence of his or her imaginary friend, your child will not feel rejected. Instead, you will demonstrate how important your child is to you.
Tell your child you would like to know his or her imaginary friend.
Ask your child to tell you about his or her imaginary friend. You might say, “What does he or she look like? What kind of things does he or she like? What kind of things does he or she not like?” If you know what his or her imaginary friend is afraid of, is interested in, and worries about, you will know about your child.
When to Ask for Help
According to Petra Šimčić, psychologist, you should ask for a professional opinion if:
· Your child’s imaginary friend limits his or her interactions with other children.
· Your child’s imaginary friend limits his or her participating in developmentally appropriate activities.