Imaginary Friends: The Facts on these Fictitious Characters

I cannot think about imaginary friends without thinking of one of my favorite 90’s movies, Drop Dead Fred. In this particular comedy, a woman imaginary friendenduring a mid-life crisis is visited by her childhood imaginary friend as she copes through the termination of her marriage and the ending of her career. Although this funny flick is geared towards garnering laughs, there is a lot of truth to the plot. Yes, imaginary friends can seem silly and irrational at times but they all serve a purpose. According to an article in Psychology Today entitled “Imaginary Friends, Any in Your House?”, “For some children, imaginary friends assist in a child’s coping with a life change or acquiring a new skill. For others, their pretend friends or creatures are simply fun. Whatever purpose they serve and whatever form they take, fantasy friends indicate a fertile imagination that is as likely to belong to a child with [siblings] as to one without siblings.” Imaginary friends are a functional component of childhood growth and development and are not just indicative of the being an only child.

What Causes A Child To Have An Imaginary Friend?

Any changes that occur during a child’s life may present itself for the emergence of an imaginary friend. For instance, the birth of a new sibling may cause a child to feel less attended to or confused as to what their role is in the family. The companionship of an imaginary friend can provide an age-appropriate outlet to play out the child’s fears or insecurities. This creative medium allows the child to express the feelings and emotions that they may never get a chance to process since they do not have the vocabulary. As the child develops a new identity and gets acclimated to having a younger sibling, the presence of an imaginary friend may or may not dissipate. The creative aspects of play and exploration towards gaining a greater understanding of their environment can lengthen the duration of the imaginary friend.

Should I Be Worried If My Child Has An Imaginary Friend?

Imaginary friends are not to be worried about unless they interfere with your child’s daily functioning. If a child is having trouble interacting with other children, encourage them to incorporate their imaginary friend into their peer group as a tool to transition them into real-life social interactions. Allow your child to decide how much they want you, the parent, to engage in their fantasy play. Imaginary friends are a normal part of childhood development and can provide the voice to address troubling situations that could not be communicated in other ways. So, parents, do not neglect the imaginary friend. Pay attention to the content in which the imaginary friend appears as it can provide clues into the social-emotional world of your child.