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Imaginary friends

 
There’s evidence that children's imaginary playmates are more widespread than ever. Find out why it’s normal, how make believe can affect a child’s development, adjusting to your child’s new friend, when should you be worried and how long will their imaginary friend be around for.
There’s evidence that children's imaginary playmates are more widespread than ever.

Find out why it’s normal, how make believe can affect a child’s development, adjusting to your child’s new friend, when should you be worried and how long will their imaginary friend be around for.
 

Is it normal for kids to have imaginary friends?

Making up and chatting to imaginary friends goes hand in hand with your child’s growing imagination and interest in pretend play.

Pre-schoolers love being with people and if there’s no one around, they’ll invent a special friend of their own.

Imaginary friends are a normal part of many children’s development, but as a parent it can sometimes be hard to get your head around!

Rather than being an outdated phenomenon, imaginary friends seem more common these days. This is possibly down to us having a more accurate understanding of the way that children play than in the past and the fact that we now talk quite openly about imaginary friends.

For most of the 20th century and before, the prevailing attitude was that imaginary playmates were a sign of insecurity and latent neurosis. People were less inclined to admit to having imaginary friends.

Smaller family units are also more common these days and children are now more likely to play by themselves, which creates an environment that is welcoming to imaginary friends.

Research carried out by the Max Planck Child Study Centre in the UK, found that half of the children they interviewed had imaginary friends and were indeed first or only children. However, making up friends is not necessarily an indicator of loneliness.

A recent study by the University of Washington also discovered that two thirds of children have an imaginary friend at some stage of their childhood.

Fictional friends give kids an outlet for exploring the world, including things that may be new to them or even upsetting.

For instance, if someone in your child's life is sick or is involved in an accident, they might pretend their imaginary friend has the same experience too. Because they can control the outcome, having an imaginary friend survive the incident can be reassuring.
 

How can make believe affect a child’s development?

Imaginary friends can help to improve your child’s language skills and increase their confidence. It’s another form of communication.

Plus it shows that they can imagine and discuss a character and have a sense of the perspective and understand the emotions of another person.

Having an imaginary friend has a positive effect on your child's development.
 

Adjusting to your child’s new friend

There are many ways to let your little one’s imaginary friend be a positive part of their childhood. Examples include:
 
  • Getting to know their new friend. Kids love for parents to show an interest in their creations. Ask your child to draw their friend or join you in a game or at the dinner table.
 
  • Talking to your child about their imaginary friend and the character they’ve created. Children can often use their imaginary friends as a way of discussing something personal or how they’re feeling. For instance, their friend might say ‘I don’t like it when mummy’s grumpy’ or ‘I want some more snacks’ to help communicate their own feelings.
 
  • Letting your child take the lead. Little kids don't get many chances to control the world around them, so don't try to speak on your child’s behalf about what their friend is saying, doing or feeling.
 
  • No matter how special your child’s imaginary friend is to them, it’s still important to hold your child accountable for their actions. For example, make sure they understand you know that they, and not their pretend friend, didn’t pick up their toys when you asked them to.
 
  • Other times you may need to include and refer to their imaginary friend in your discussions, such as ‘all kids in this house must learn to eat their veges’ or ‘all kids must try and remember their manners’.
 

When should you be worried?

While imaginary friends are good for helping your child communicate in most cases, there may be underlying reasons why your child has been quiet and withdrawn lately.
 
If you’ve got concerns, encourage them to tell you all about how they’re feeling and tell you more about how their friend is feeling too.

It might be that they are struggling to make friends at kindy or they are being bullied, and so their imaginary friend is their way of dealing with it.

Although it’s rarely necessary, if there is anything you find particularly troubling you should contact your GP and discuss your concerns.
 

How will your child’s imagery friend stay?

While your child's pretend friend won’t be around forever (lots of kids report that their friend has moved away or even died when they’ve finished with them), other invisible friends may replace them over the next few years until they grow out of them.

Check out our other Hot Topics on: Image source: nymetroparents.com
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