“As I Was Walking Up The Stair, I Met A Friend Who Wasn’t There.
He Wasn’t There Again Today – Oh How I Wish He’d Go Away!”
How to handle imaginary friends
It may come as a shock when you first realise your child is playing, talking or generally interacting with an imaginary friend. But then again, maybe you had one when you were little?
It’s perfectly normal for young children to have imaginary friends. In fact, it’s seen by some as a healthy part of child development, and while it may be a little disturbing to see your little one talking earnestly into thin air, you should focus on the positive reasons why this could be a good thing.
Developing social skills
Having an imaginary friend is a great way of acting out role play for certain situations that your child may be finding difficult, frustrating or scary. Equally, if there is something at home she isn’t happy about but doesn’t have the confidence to bring it up with you herself, she can always tell you through her imaginary friend: “Minnie Mouse doesn’t like it when you shout.”
But it works both ways. If you’re having trouble getting her to eat her veg, you can always say: “look, I am so impressed how your friend has eaten up all the food on her plate.”
It takes quite an imagination to come up with an imaginary friend, so be pleased that your little one has the ability to be creative and play independently. She will never be bored with a ready-made playmate there at all times, plus all this practice one-way conversation often means children with imaginary friends are a little more articulate.
For those with a canny imagination, a made-up friend can be used to their advantage, for example: “Minnie Mouse ate all my ice cream up – can you give me some more to make up for it?”
Mine, mine, mine......
Children have to do a lot of sharing – sharing their toys, sharing their parents’ time, sharing the attention of their peers and teachers - so an imaginary friend is something that is completely their own and no-one else’s.
What about the real thing?
Some parents worry that if their child is spending a lot of time with an imaginary friend, she might not be making friends in the real world. Far from inhibiting social interaction, having an imaginary friend can build confidence and in turn increase their popularity.
Leave well alone
If you hear your child chattering away in their room, don’t be tempted to step in and ask who it is they are talking to. This kind of invasion into her private play will more than likely make the imaginary friend disappear as quickly as it arrived, breaking off a make-believe world that has the potential to boost her verbal skills and self-confidence.
Remember: It won’t last forever
It is estimated that up to two-thirds of children create imaginary friends, usually appearing around the age of three years when children are beginning to form their own identities and testing the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Most lose interest in them by the time they reach six. So make the most of setting an extra place at the dinner table – these adorable idiosyncrasies are often over before you know it.
(The above in based on an article prepared by Emma Flanagan in June 2016).