Is having imaginary friends normal or dangerous? Experts weigh in on the issue

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Research shows that once children reach school age, both boys and girls are equally likely to have an imaginary companion.

Although some people—particularly adults—may find it weird, having imaginary friends is a normal part of growing up. These imaginary entities take many forms, from normal humans to fairies to a creature of a child’s own making.

But what does experts have to say about this phenomenon?

According to childhood educational psychologist Dr. Karen Majors, having imaginary friends isn’t harmful in any way. In fact, it can even be a good thing.

It’s completely normal

"65 per cent of children up to age seven currently have an imaginary friend,” she tells Mail Online. "And in a study of 1800 kids, ten per cent of those aged nine to ten years old admitted to having one.”

Not only that, these fictitious characters serve many and different purposes.

“Kids who have them aren't one homogeneous group,” Dr. Majors says. "So social, early talkers may have an imaginary friend, as may a child with learning difficulties, or a child who has been traumatised.”

It's healthy

Did you know that having an imaginary friend is a good sign of creativity? Children entertaining themselves through pretend play does wonders for their emotional, social and cognitive development.

“Imaginary friends do go a bit beyond pretend play, but it's part of normal child development,” Dr. Majors says.

Find out more about the effects of imaginary friends to children on the next page

For example, when a child attributes wanting to leave the lights on for their “friend,” the educational psychologist says it’s all right, too.

"Some children draw on them as a self-soothing strategy when they're scared."

This behaviour is most prevalent in young children around age two.

"When the child is learning to regulate their behaviour, this happens,” she says. “Don't engage with it, and address the child directly.”

Both boys and girls

According to most research, girls are more likely than boys to develop imaginary friends.

However, boys have a different kind of imagining things. Particularly, they are more likely to participate in fantasy play, incorporating the themes of superheroes and adventure in their fantasy play.

Not only that, once children reach school age, both boys and girls are equally likely to have an imaginary companion.

In brief, having imaginary friends is something that parents shouldn't shun. In fact it is something they should be comfortable with. After all, children will only have once childhood, and they should explore and enjoy it as much as they can.

Photo credit: Johnny Silvercloud

READ: Developmental milestones for 4 year olds: Is your child on schedule?

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Written by

James Martinez