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“Who are you talking to?” Why do children have imaginary friends and should you be concerned? Read on to find out.

Does this sound familiar? “No Mummy, don’t close the door, you’ll lock Mickey outside”. Have you ever been asked by your little tot to kiss what seems to be a ghost or serve breakfast to someone who doesn’t exist? Do you often find your child talking to himself and conversing with what appears to be thin air? If this is a regular event in your home, it seems that your child has an imaginary friend. However, what does this mean and why do children develop imaginary friends?

From the Mouth and Through the Eyes of Babes
To most children, an imaginary friend is someone they can talk to and express their fears and concerns with. They are often the same gender as your child and they experience some awesome adventures together. With an imaginary friend, your child has someone to spend time with, play with and share with.

In some cases these friends only appear when your child is sad, as a way of offering comfort. These friends share the same interests and like the same things as your child. Your child can remain busy, entertained and satisfied for hours on end. With a make believe friend, your child may be more willing and less frightened to try new and exciting things.

An imaginary friend means that your child always has someone to play with. My mother recalls playing hide and seek with my brother and his imaginary friend. Hours passed and she was still left looking for the imaginary friend. My brother was beside himself as they searched but couldn’t find him. My mum kept opening cupboards and saying “look there he is”, but my brother replied hastily saying “No! He isn’t”. The imaginary friend was later found hiding in the oven.

Possible Explanations for having Imaginary Friends
Imaginary friends are nothing to worry about; they are in fact a part of the developmental stage in your child’s life. They also signify an active and creative imagination that in most cases never disappears. It is believed that imaginary friends allow your child to decide what they like and dislike. It also gives your child the opportunity to do the things he likes because he knows the imaginary friend will do whatever your child suggests.
Imaginary friends are also created so that your child can express himself to this friend. This is often the case when a child feels that his thoughts and ideas would be disregarded as unimportant and trivial.

Children are conscious about how people react to them, so an imaginary friend won’t say that their ideas and thoughts are silly. In other words, imaginary friends offer them the opportunity to fully express themselves. Imaginary friends also give children the courage to try things they would be afraid to do on their own. If your child is very good, but his friend is naughty and is always breaking the rules, it might show a side of your child that he/she is afraid to express or alternatively it might indicate that your rules are too strict.
Loneliness is also a common reason for children developing imaginary friends. It is often the case that first born children will develop imaginary friends at a young age as a means of having some companionship. This is because in some cases children are too young to go to school and make consistent friends.

Imaginary friends also offer the opportunity to have control over the situation, whether it be when playing in the garden or watching a specific cartoon on TV. These friends can also be a means of your child learning to share, get on with others and learn more about themselves.

If your child has a pretend friend, it could be their way of testing out their different emotions and actions. Observing how your child treats and behaves with this friend, can act as a clear indication as to how the child views his/her world. In other words, if your child is always angry at his friend, it may be a reflection of how he sees his world. He may feel that you are always angry at him.

These friends allow your child the opportunity to have a relationship that is separate from their parents. This friend allows your child to explore and become independent and comfortable with themselves. It allows them to be part of a make believe land with animals, fairies and dinosaurs.

Things to Look Out for as a Parent
As much as you want to be a part of every aspect in your child’s development, it is important that you never bring up the friend, unless your child does so first. It is important that you are supportive of this friend and take part in all the activities you are invited to join in on. Your child should direct the play, this way you will also get to know more about how your child sees the world and treats his friend.

You may find that your child starts to blame their naughty or deviant behaviour on their friend. You can handle this type of behaviour by acknowledging that we all make mistakes and that you will help them clean up the imaginary friend’s mess. Avoid the urge to say that they are being silly and that they need to forget their friend.

There is no room for concern if your child has an imaginary friend. You should however be concerned if your child refuses to play and engage with real children. Most children have imaginary friends between the ages of 3 and 5, but they can exist until your child is 10. It has also been found that girls are more likely to have imaginary friends than their male counterparts.

Other Possible Reasons For Having Imaginary Friends

  • They are being bullied
  • They are shy
  • They are learning how to share
  • They are practising being in control
  • They are an only child
  • They are learning how to better express themselves and their needs

Friends like These
Imaginary friends are great and can assist in your child’s development. It has been found that children who have imaginary friends are likely to become more creative in adulthood. Imaginary friends are also company for an only child. It helps them discover who they are and what they like. These pretend friends are very common, as 1 in 10 children have imaginary friends by the time they are 3.

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