Although it is common for a child to create an imaginary companion, some parents worry about how to handle the situation. Here are some helpful tips:
- Avoid challenging the existence of your child’s imaginary friend. Most children know they are pretending, so you don’t have to force them to admit it. You don’t want to make them feel ashamed.
- Observe how your child treats his or her imaginary companion. If your child is rude or mean, use this as an opportunity to talk about how to treat others.
- Avoid expressing your anxiety when your child adds to his or her repertoire of imaginary companions. My daughter began with one imaginary companion, and when her baby brother was born, she announced that she had another new friend. But as soon as her brother was old enough to play with her, both imaginary companions moved away.
- If your child blames his or her imaginary companion for doing something wrong, discuss why the behavior was wrong and what the appropriate behavior should have been. However, treat this situation like you would when one sibling blames another. When you have proof that your child did it, gently confront your child with the proof. Then take the necessary action such as administering a time-out or taking away a privilege.
- Because your child’s imagination was responsible for creating the friend, take advantage of this by encouraging him or her to write stories or dictate them to you. Who knows? Maybe your child will be a published author like Jason Gaes, who wrote My Book for Kids with Cansur when he was 7 years old; Dorothy Straight, who wrote How the World Began when she was 4 years old; and Francis Hawkins, who wrote Youth Behavior when he was 8 years old (2000-2006, Pearson Education). So, offer paper, pencils, markers, paint, clay, beads, and the like to stimulate your child’s creativity.
- Avoid discouraging your child from talking to himself or herself when working on tasks. Although the development of this dialogue can be a result of having an imaginary friend or vice versa, it is different from talking directly to an imaginary companion. This personal dialogue can help your child successfully work through tasks (as cited in Davis, Meins, & Fernyhough, 2013).
- Some children develop imaginary companions to help them cope with challenging circumstances. If your child’s ability to cope with a serious challenge is in question, seek professional help from a reputable child psychologist.
Take comfort that more than 50% of children create imaginary companions, and according to Taylor and Mannering (2007), of the children who participated in their study of children who had imaginary friends, some were 12 years old.
How did you cope with your child’s imaginary companion? This is the story in you. Share it.
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Davis, P., Meins, E. & Fernyhough, C. Individual differences in children’s private speech: The role of imaginary companions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 116(2013). 561-571. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleListURL&_method=list&_ArticleListID=-543699854&_sort=r&_st=13&view=c&_acct=C000228598&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=12975512&md5=74923fe7d0be6f4b574302eb52378a4a&searchtype=a
Pearson Education. (2000–2006). Fact monster. Retrieved from http://www.factmonster.com/ipa/A0765967.html
Taylor, M. & Mannering, A. (2007). Of Hobbes and Harvey: The imaginary companions of children and adults. Play and Development: Evolutionary, Sociocultural and Functional Perspectives. Retrieved from http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~siegler/423-taylor07.pdf