Imaginary friends are an escape. Children often live in a fantasy world of fun and imagination. It can comfort many children and allow them to escape into a world of love, safety and security. Not all children have or need an imaginary friend. Those children that do usually need someone connected to them, accepting of them, someone to share events, games, laughter, someone to explore with and all this is normal for any developing child.
Most young children, under four years, play next to someone rather than with. They develop the social skills to interact as they grow and develop. By 4 or 5 years old they should have these skills and may also have an imaginary friend.
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I suggest parents of a child that does have a good imaginary friend, ask the child about them in the third person. Ask their friends name, where they come from, who they are, why they are there and what sort of friend they are to your child. Be curious about their responses but not concerned.
If you find your child ignoring other social interactions because they are isolating themselves with their imaginary friend we need to determine the reason, this is occurring. It may be because the child feels less confident, bullied, scared or unwanted by their peers or siblings. They may feel secluded from others, especially in a busy home environment.
Are imaginary friends a right or wrong thing?
It does depend if the child integrates themselves socially with others and if their ‘friend’ is there all the time or only at times where loneliness or fear occurs. This is where an imaginary friend is their support or their comfort, someone who is there for them to help them feel good or better about them self and this is always a good thing. Parents should not necessarily share in their child’s imaginary friend. They can ignore them and explain to the child that this imaginary friend is their friend, not mummy or daddy’s friend as they can’t see or hear them. This can reiterate to the child that it is their make-believe and not real.
If your child is isolating them self from others over the choice to remain with their imaginary friend, a thorough discussion is required. Kids lose themselves as a Disney character, a superhero, a princess, a pop star; and this is good, healthy and fun.
Most imaginary friends naturally disappear after a while. They should not be discouraged if they serve a purpose for the child. Be mindful of why this friend is currently in your child’s imagination. If may be due to a change in family circumstance, loss of someone close to them or moving to another area or home. All these can present as a reason the child develops their imaginary friend as they will be the solid foundation your child may need at that time and this is fine. Allow them to feel secure with their friend for as long as they need them. This is usually no too long.
If your child is growing older, around 7 or 8 years and their friend remains or enters into their life, then this is where it is often more than just an imaginary friend, it may be an escape from something uncomfortable or distressing experienced by your child. A parent can talk to the child alone about their friend and the reason their friend is there. If any parent feels their child needs help from becoming too isolated with their imaginary friend, please contact your local doctor for a referral to a Pediatric Psychologist, just for clearance so you no longer need to worry.
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