What to do if my kid has imaginary friends...
Does your little one talk to a friend who isn't there? Not to worry, he may just have an imaginary friend. Read more to find out what to do if your kid has an imaginary friend here.
Joey took the lamp and threw it down. When mommy entered the room she looked at the broken lamp shattered on the floor. Sensing that her 4 year old son had done it, she immediately demanded an explanation. He pointed at no one but towards the sofa and said, “Not me mommy. It’s him, Sammy, he threw it down. I was just sitting down, watching TV.”
This was not the first time Joey was talking about Sammy, his imaginary friend. Joey was quite a sweet and smart boy. But she had caught Joey chatting and sometimes playing with his unseen friend on many occasions. Was this normal?
Just another childhood phase
Imaginary friends can be based on someone your child already knows, a storybook or TV character or can come purely from your child’s imagination. It is a psychological phenomenon where the friendship takes place in the imagination rather than external physical reality.
Children as young as two and a half can have an imaginary friend. They will usually stop playing with make-believe friends –- whether they have one or more, when they are ready to move on. Research suggests that imaginary friends could be a feature of your child’s life for up to 3 to 5 years.
Some child development professionals believe that the presence of imaginary friends past this age signals a serious psychiatric disorder. Others disagree, saying that imaginary friends are common among school-age children also and are part of normal social-cognitive development.
Like Joey’s mom, if you have seen your child interacting with a make-believe friend, most often when alone –-Don’t get alarmed as its quiet normal for kids. Just like all other childhood phases, if ignored, this too is going to pass away.
Why does your child need an imaginary friend?
So, first let’s talk about why kids love to have an imaginary friend. There could be a whole lot of reasons for it.
A world of their own
When you read stories about fairies, angels, dragon slayers and superheroes, your child’s young innocent mind, fantasize about their own make-believe world. Imaginary friends are a part of this fantasy world. In fact, children with make-believe friends may be more imaginative and are more likely to enjoy fantasy play and magical stories.
It provides comfort in times of stress, companionship when they’re lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for their misdeeds. Most important, the way children play with or talk about their friends can tell you about how they are feeling. It gives you an insight into your child’s inner world – his likes, dislikes, anxieties and preferences.
Children with imaginary companions may develop language skills and retain knowledge faster than children without them. This could be a result of “conversations” with their imaginary friends.
Adjusting to a new environment
Children with imaginary friends show low social preference for peers, but are better at coping with challenges like a new place or situation. They display flexibility and positive adjustment at most times.
How to handle issues with imaginary friends?
Here are some ideas for handling the situation if your child’s imaginary friend is having negative impact on your child’s behavior.
Doing things for imaginary friends
Your child might ask you to hold open doors, fix a snack, or make up a bed for your child’s imaginary friend. Rather than doing it yourself, encourage your child to do it for his friend. This way you are accepting the imaginary friend but also taking the opportunity to develop your child’s skills.
Consulting imaginary friends
Some children insist on consulting with their friends all the time – ‘I have to ask Sammy first’. They might also ask you to speak through their friends. If this is becoming frustrating, try saying to your child, ‘I want to hear what you think – not what Sammy thinks’.
Blaming to avoid being punished
Sometimes children will do or say something they shouldn’t and blame their imaginary friends for it. You can handle this by clearly telling your child that the imaginary friend could not have done this. Then follow up by making your child clean up the mess.
Ignorance is bliss
When your child makes stories, take her explanation at face value. Don’t make a big deal when she mentions her buddy to you. That means neither contradicting her nor grilling her about it. If you incorporate her friend into your world, by talking with someone who doesn’t exist, you’ll likely have her friend hanging around for a longer time. In the meantime, let her enjoy the company of her friend; she’ll soon grow out of this common childhood phase.
A part of trauma
For few children, imaginary friends can be a symptom of other issues. If you are worried that the imaginary friend is a product of your child’s past or an unpleasant event, consult a child psychologist or take help of a counselor.
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