Although some people—particularly adults—may find it weird, having an imaginary friend 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 do 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.
Kid has imaginary friend? It’s completely normal
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“65 percent of children up to age seven currently have an imaginary friend,” she tells Mail Online. “And in a study of 1800 kids, ten percent of those aged nine to ten years old admitted to having one.”
Not only that, these fictitious characters serve many 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 traumatized.”
Imaginary friend disorder
These fictitious friends could take the form of an invisible friend, an animal, a fancy creature, or even a toy or stuffed animal.
Most research has shown that making up stories about imaginary companions is a healthy form of children’s play. Studies show that even kids who make imaginary pals might benefit in certain ways from their growth.
Benefits might include:
Your child may benefit from having imaginary friends in the form of friendship, support, entertainment, and other things.
Toddler talking to imaginary friend? It’s healthy
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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.
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 behavior is most prevalent in young children around age two. Until recently, experts believed having an imaginary friend was a problem or a sign of a mental health disorder.
According to a credible source, recent research has proven this hypothesis to be false. While most people often associate having imaginary pals with young children in preschool, adult kids also frequently have them.
The development of a child’s play and imagination can be quite important. A child might use an imaginary friend to explore relationships and foster creativity.
“When the child is learning to regulate their behavior, this happens,” she says. “Don’t engage with it, and address the child directly.”
How should a parent react when their kid has imaginary friend?
If your child talks to you about their imaginary friend, find out more. You can discover more about your child’s interests, personality, and possible benefits of the imaginary buddy.
Does their imaginary friend, for instance, give them advice on how to conduct friendships?
Additionally, it can be beneficial to play along. Consider asking a friend about their travel plans while your child is with you, or setting up a second table for dinner.
Despite the fact that most imaginary friends have been described as being agreeable, affable, and submissive. Some have received the reputation of being combative or disruptive. It’s conceivable that some children’s imaginary friends will frighten, irritate, or upset them.
It is unclear why an imagined friend may be terrifying, but it appears that the child still gains something from these made-up relationships.
A child may benefit from these more difficult relationships by learning to negotiate social circumstances and overcome obstacles in the real world.
Toddler talking to an imaginary friend: when does it become a problem?
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According to Samantha Rodman, Ph.D., author of How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce:
Do not allow your child to use an imaginary buddy to rule the home completely. At some point or another, children will try acting out while imitating or listening to an imaginary friend.
Imaginary friends typically only pose issues when a young child attributes their undesirable behavior to the imaginary buddy. Your child should be educated that whatever they or their imaginary friend do, they are accountable for it.
The following signs that your child’s development is being negatively impacted by an imagined buddy include:
- Bringing up bad incidents with their imaginary friend in great detail and doing so frequently
- They frequently act in a derogatory or unethical manner and blame it on their fictional friend or their influence.
dislike for their fictional buddy
- Unanticipated changes to your child’s eating or sleeping schedule
- Still having an imaginary friend even after the age of 12
Who gets a toddler imaginary friend? Both boys and girls
According to most research, girls are more likely than boys to develop imaginary friends. An earlier study found that 28% of kids between the ages of 5 and 12 had imaginary friends. Girls are more likely than boys to have imaginary friends.
However, boys have different kinds 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 but 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 one childhood, and they should explore and enjoy it as much as they can.
When does an imaginary friend disorder go away?
You can never tell how long a made-up friend will stick around. Your child will stop playing with them when they’re ready. Many children have imaginary friends for a while, but they may have a long-lasting effect on your child’s life.
If your child displays any of these troubling signs or any others, call your pediatrician right once. Routines and behavior will change as your child ages, but there may also be psychological issues or other underlying causes at play.
Additional information from Margaux Dolores