Your kid's imaginary friend: Should you be worried?
Clinical psychologist Rachael K. Tan answers all your questions about kids' imaginary friends. Keep reading to find out more...
One day, my 4-year-old son announced that he had a new friend named Jaggery. “Interesting name,” I thought to myself, wondering whether Jaggery was a new boy at school.
Turns out that Jaggery is a sparkly blue dragon who lives next door to us and loves nothing more than munching on little girls and broccoli!
My son goes into great detail when talking about his dragon friend and describes his adventures on a daily basis.
Personally, I’m not too worried about my kid’s imaginary friend, but I know there are many parents out there whose kids have imaginary friends, too, and might be a bit concerned about it.
So we asked clinical psychologist Rachael Tan for her expert opinion on the subject of a kid’s imaginary friend.
To find out what Rachael had to say, go to the next page…
Who is a kid’s imaginary friend?
“Imaginary friends” are fictional characters — for example, people or animals — that children make up and then interact with for the purpose of companionship.
The most common ways children engage with imaginary friends include simply talking to them, talking for them (e.g., “Sally says she wants a drink”), playing games together and role playing with them.
A kid’s imaginary friend can exist both purely in her mind or be an actual physical object like a stuffed bunny.
At around what age do kids start having imaginary friends?
Although not all children will create imaginary friends, children who make imaginary friends can develop these friendships as soon as they pick up enough language to allow them to engage in some form of interaction with their friend.
Why do kids create imaginary friends?
Your kid’s imaginary friend might be created by your child for a variety of reasons, such as:
– To have someone non-judgemental to talk to/play with;
– To enable the child to enact a sense of control over one aspect of his/her life;
– To help the child cope with various life experiences by providing companionship and comfort.
Are there any benefits to kids having imaginary friends? If so, what are they?
Having age-appropriate imaginary friends can help children in many ways, including:
– Developing their language and creative abilities;
– Allowing a safe space to act out make-believe situations and practice possible real-life situations like cleaning up some milk that the friend has spilled;
– Providing companionship when the child has to spend time on his/her own;
– Giving parents/adults opportunities to explore and assist with difficulties and/or stressors in the child’s life. For example, if a child is constantly bullying their imaginary friend, this may be an indication that the child is personally struggling with issues of bullying.
When should you not encourage your child’s relationship with an imaginary friend?
At appropriate times, such as during play, it’s perfectly fine to go along with your kid’s imaginary friend and enter into your kid’s creative world. However, there are also times when it’s best to avoid such interactions.
Most children recognise that their imaginary friends are make-believe and do not really exist.
So at times, they may use their imaginary companions as “scapegoats” to get out of trouble because they think there is no way to prove what their friend did or did not do.
You can deal with such situations by remaining calm and informing your child that you both know his/her imaginary friend could not have done the deed.
After this, dish out the usual consequence for the inappropriate act your child has committed.
Children can also use their imaginary companions to make excuses for not doing what they are told. A child, for example, says, “Lisa needs me to help her make a cake so I can’t do my homework right now.”
In this situation, you could use the “First-Then” rule with your child. Respond by saying, “First you need to do your homework, and then you can help Lisa with her cake.”
If your child still does not do as you have asked, implement the consequence for not obeying an instruction as you normally would.
When should you be worried about your child’s imaginary friend?
It may be worth seeking professional advice from a child development specialist if you notice that your child has difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Here are some telltale signs:
– Your child is overly emotionally involved with their imaginary companion. For example, she becomes visibly distressed over something she thinks her friend has done.
– Your child often reports that he/she is not able to control what the imaginary friend does.
– Your child does harmful things because his/her imaginary friend says so.
– Your child prefers to spend majority of the time alone with the make-believe companion, rather than with real-life peers.
To find out more about Rachael Tan and her practice, click here.
The advantages linked to kids having an imaginary friend certainly outweigh any disadvantages. It’s also good to keep in mind that your kid’s imaginary friend is a perfectly normal part of childhood and healthy development.
You’ll also be glad to know that according to experts, kids with imaginary friends have high levels of creativity and self-esteem.
So parents, enjoy watching your child use his imagination and creativity while the phase lasts!
Does your child have an imaginary friend? Tell us all about it by leaving a comment.