Many parents worry when their children suddenly develop an attachment to an imaginary friend. While it can sometimes signal distress or a psychological problem, imaginary friends are part of a healthy childhood, explains Social Psychologist Susan Newman, PhD. In fact research conducted by Marjorie Taylor a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and author of Imagination Companions and the Children Who Create Them, revealed that65 percent of all children develop an imaginary friend at some time in their lives.
The Old View
Until fairly recently, imaginary friends were viewed as a sign of stress or difficulty communicating with peers. According to Dr Spock, the go-to for baby care and child raising between the 1940s and the 1970s, imaginary friends were a sign of problems with normal development and signaled difficulty getting along with other children. This was undoubtedly fueled by the tendency of only children, or firstborns, to engage in play with imaginary friends. But recent research has shown that these concerns were unfounded, says Newman.
Imaginary friends are the result of active imaginations. To develop an imaginary friend, children need time to indulge in alone time. Only children and firstborns have ample opportunities to explore imaginative play, making them more likely to develop imaginary friends. Pretend play and imaginary friends are not a sign of loneliness, but instead the manifestation of a well-developed imagination. While only children and first borns are more likely to develop imaginary friends, children with siblings also engage in pretend play with imaginary friends.
Many parents worry that playing along with their child's fantasies may encourage their child to spend too much time in a fantasy world, but this worry is generally unfounded. In fact, according to Newman, parents who banish the imaginary friend from family events may cause more harm than good. Many children react to your disapproval by keeping their imaginary friend a secret from you, which means you lose out on learning about how your child thinks and feels through the actions of his imaginary friend. Children often express feelings that they are unable to express as themselves through their imaginary friends, like telling your their imaginary friend is afraid of monsters under the bed. The company of an imaginary friend can be both entertaining and enjoyable for both you and your child. Embrace you child's active imagination and follow her lead when interacting with her imaginary friend.
Benefits of Imaginary Friends
Children reap a host of benefits from imaginary friends. They learn to work through fears, like facing the dark. Research indicates that children who have imaginary friends are often well-balanced and happy, but that's not the only benefits they reap.
- Social Skills: Children with imaginary friends get along better with their peers.
- Vocabulary and Communication Skills: Imaginary friends build both vocabulary and communication skills, as these children spend time talking to their pretend playmate.
- Strong Problem Solving Skills: Children with imaginary friends develop strong problem-solving skills, probably from talking through problems with their imaginary friend.
- Creativity & Imagination: Children with pretend friends develop an active imagination that they carry with them into later years.
Dangers of Imaginary Friends
Sometimes, an imaginary friend can alert you to problems. Look for these warning signs that your child's imaginative play may be concealing a more serious issue.
- Avoiding Responsibility: A little avoiding is normal, but if your little one consistently places blame for his poor behavior on his imaginary friend, it may be time to address the issue.
- Fear of Imaginary Friends: If your child expresses fear of an imaginary friend talk to your child about those fears. If they persist, seek medical or psychological advice.
- Lack of Real Friends: If your child spends so much time with her imaginary friend that she avoids building friendships with other children, make an effort to help her make friends with children her age. Encourage her to leave her imaginary friend at home when leaving for daycare at places like http://www.akarrasel.com/ or going on play dates. While spending quiet time playing with her pretend friend isn't a cause for concern, avoiding others to spend time with an imaginary friend may be.
Imaginary friends may bring your child comfort when he is under stress and help him face normal fears, but most of all imaginary friends as just plain fun. Take the time to learn about your child's imaginary friend and relax. The pretend friend will be gone before you know it, but the skills your child learns from him may last a lifetime.