Lots of children have imaginary friends. Often they form an obvious bond with their imaginary pals and that worries some parents. So, should you worry?
Imaginary friends usually are just that – imaginary. They don’t have a physical object to connect them with. But some kids are turning to stuffed animals or dolls to express their imaginary pals with.
According to a study by the University of Oregon, by age seven about 37% ot children take imaginative play a step farther and create an imaginary friend. Sadly they haven’t explored how many of these friends are truly imaginary and how many of them take the form of a stuffed animal.
Either way, the effects are the same – children connect with “something that isn’t there” so to speak. But maybe it just is there. If you had an imaginary friend when you are a child, you might be able to recollect that it all felt pretty real to you. It was possibly the first time you felt the natural human instinct to take care of someone.
You could and probably still remember exactly how your imaginary friend looked like. What was he or she like. What games did he or she liked and countless other details.
Researchers found that children who create a friend out of a personified object tend to have a parent-like relationship with their special toy friend, whereas children with invisible friends tend to imagine an egalitarian relationship, more like a real friend, writes Psychology Today. This means that if your imaginary friend is a stuffed animal for example, you see it more as something that you have to take care for rather than just fun. You feel bigger responsibility towards it.
What’s more, the researchers found that nearly all children knew perfectly well that their imaginary firends were that – imaginary. They knew they created them themselves and they do not exist in real life. So should you be worried if you see your child become very attached to its stuffed animal?
Not at all. Get involved in it. Ask your child questions about their imaginary friend. You will not only get to know the said friend but also your child. You will be able to see how she or he thinks, how she or he feels and so on. If the imaginary friend is afraid of the dark, then this is a clear sign that the child is also afraid of the dark and you can take action. Don’t be afraid to even play along.
You can also use that bond to your advantage. For exampel your child has made a big mess and says the imaginary friend did it. Reply “I don’t care who made this mess. You need to wipe it up”. Set boundaries like “Aunt Carol is coming in the car with us, so Mr. Murf will have to find somewhere else to sit today” and so on.
For children having an imaginary friend is a great way to get to know the world. You don’t have to worry it will have an ill-effect on tthe child’s communication skills. Quite the opposite, it may help developing them. With time the child will start to phase out the imaginary friend naturally. So don’t worry and enjoy it.