Many children can create imaginary friends. They are characters that activate creativity and help express emotions. There are no reasons to worry. It is normal and common for them to appear, and equally that they leave too.
Imaginary friends are common and normal in children. In general, they are the product of the child’s creativity and emotions. However, parents may worry and wonder what to do if their child has an imaginary friend.
These beings created by the vibrant and fantasized mind of children can appear between 2 and 4 years, in which the child begins to learn the language and relate. Its existence is due to several reasons and, generally, as they appear, they leave.
However, it can be a source of concern for parents to see that a child has an imaginary friend. Imaginary friends are part of the emotional development of the child, also of highly creative and sensitive minds. Surely there is nothing to worry about.
Why children invent imaginary friends?
Parents are surprised to see their child playing and talking alone. When he asks the child what it is about, he responds calmly that it is his new friend. Many parents will find it fun, others will be anguished because “my son has an imaginary friend!”.
A study of children 3 to 4 years old, led by researchers Marjorie Taylor and Stephanie Carlson, from the universities of Oregon and Washington respectively, found that 2 out of 3 children had imaginary friends. Of the sample of 152 children studied, 70% were first-born children or only children.
However, there is no direct relationship between loneliness and the imaginary friend. Children who have siblings also have imaginary friends. It also happens with children who grow up in environments surrounded by adults: some will create imaginary friends, others will not.
The imaginary friend helps the child express their feelings and improve their communication skills. They can be playmates, even having siblings. They can also arise in the face of a lack or effective shock.
How are imaginary friends?
Each child will have their own imaginary friend. Some will be invisible, others will be represented by the favorite doll or stuffed animal. This character is a product of your child’s imagination and emotions. Therefore, they will have their own name and personality.
Children know that these companions only exist in their imagination. They can be children of the same age and size as our son, or as small as to carry it in a pocket to the park or to the grandmother’s house. They can also be animals, superheroes or the character of the child’s preference. You also try 9 exercises to improve attention in children.
Imaginary friends are allies of children. They help them face difficulties such as the divorce of parents, the arrival of a new sibling, a change of school or a change of city or country.
Therefore, they change at the child’s will and do what the child needs them to do. These partners appear and disappear while the child develops and improves their social skills.
However, the mentioned study found that three years after the first data collection, a third of the children still kept their imaginary friends when they arrived at school. That is when the children were about 7 years old. The friends had changed, but they still existed.
My son has an imaginary friend! What do I do?
The first thing to do when a child has an imaginary friend is to maintain tranquility. Up to 6 to 7 years it is normal for a child to have an imaginary partner.
There are even cases of adolescents with imaginary friends, less common, but this is not considered a pathological problem. Then go calmly and follow these simple recommendations to “deal” with these characters.
Avoid ignoring or denying your child’s imaginary friend. Treat the situation naturally, the same one you use with your child. Just as you should not scold them or force them to forget this character, do not encourage the relationship either. Simply act naturally when it appears, and when it is not there, do not mention it.
Meet the imaginary friend
According to Carlson and Taylor’s research, only 26% of parents knew that their son had an imaginary friend. Let your child talk freely about his new friend. Listen and see what it says and how it expresses it. You need to “know” this character so you can determine when there is a problem.
The imaginary friend is not an excuse or justification
If your child has an imaginary friend and uses it to bypass a rule or commit a prank, do not allow it. When your child wants to avoid some responsibility or justify bad behavior arguing that it was the “fault” of the imaginary friend, without losing tranquility or ridicule, do not leave it.
Only for when you are alone
As it is clear that this character only exists in the imagination of your child, the games or conversations are only for when the child has no one to play with or relate to. Try and insist that this be so: only for when the child is alone.
It fosters encounters with real children
Although the attitude towards these companions must be of respect and tolerance, it encourages them to meet other children to play and socialize. You are not asking him to forget the imaginary friend, but help your child to socialize. As the child develops his psychosocial skills, imaginary friends tend to disappear.
When do you have to worry?
In general, when a child has an imaginary friend, there is nothing to worry about. These creations are not hallucinations or pathological problems. However, if any of the following situations occur, there may be a major problem that merits the intervention of a psychologist or therapist.
- The child isolates himself and prefers to play with the imaginary friend rather than with real friends. He just feels comfortable with the imaginary friend.
- There are pictures of excitement, loss of control, mental confusion or irritability when the character “appears”.
- Notes that the personality of the imaginary friend is aggressive or It causes discomfort or fear in the child.
- The child adopts the aggressive or conflictive personality of the imaginary partner.
Detecting any of these behaviors implies that you have observed and known the relationship your child has with his imaginary friend. As we always say, the time and attention you give to your child are key to detecting these or other problems.