Is your child talking about a friend that you are completely unaware of ? Possibly you are told that the ‘friend’ is currently at your dinner table or on a trip with you but you can’t see or hear them. Your child is likely enjoying a special relationship that is only hers/his. Do you recall having an imaginary friend ?
Not to worry. Imaginary friends are part of normal development. By age seven, 65% of children have had one at some point. The most likely children to experience an imaginary friendship are the eldest, shy or only children, for obvious reasons. .
An imaginary friend may be a person, creature, ghost or even a personified object. It may involve a mirror image of play that your offspring has had. Think of your child’s invention as an action figure or doll as they serve a similar purpose. Invisible friends may be positive and soothing company for a child who is lonely or bored. S/he can practice social skills and be able to be in complete control. Such play involves stretching the power of imagination.
You learn more about your little one when you hear what your child is saying to his/her friend or what that friend is quoted as saying. Is your child trying to ‘safely’ tell you about things s/he doesn’t like so it becomes the buddy who doesn’t want to visit grandma or go to school ?. When does the friend pop up? Dinner-, bed-, bed-time? There’s likely a message to you there. If your child wants a certain toy or extra treat, for his/her friend of course, you can say “Invisible friends get invisible treats”. Maybe the friend exists in the service of becoming more independent…”my friend will give me a bath”. Sometimes, an imaginary pal may be nice, mean or bossy…more information for a parent to ponder.
No need to jump into the veracity pond. Just dip a toe in and go along with it. These elusive friends usually fade when a child enters school. If the friendship continues through first or second grade, you will want to evaluate why they are still hanging around.
We adults have imaginary situations and conversations in our heads. Think of practicing for a job interview. “He’ll say…” and “I’ll respond…” Or, “The next time my friend says…” I’ll remind her….!”. Our little ones are just practicing in a more concrete manner.