Meet my friend Emma – you cannot see her

Not every child creates an imaginary friend with and yet it is a fairly common event. There are some interesting speculations about why a child may invent a friend. It is typically not a problem. Parents should not jump to conclusions and try to rid the child of the new found friend. Instead they should observe the interactions and learn a little about how the child’s mind works.

Professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, Marjorie Taylor, wrote a book about children and imaginary friends. The book is titled “Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them. She did some extensive research with children in preschool through the age seven. It might surprise some, that according to Taylor, 65 percent of all children have make-believe friends at some point in their life. Ms Taylor reminds parents that creating a companion is not necessarily a sign loneliness or psychological distress. These children are keenly aware that the friend is personal to them.

Children often work out things they can not understand through role play. An imaginary friend is a great partner for this activity. An imaginary can not tell anyone, hurt the child and will go away anytime the child want them to. Sounds great, right? It is.

Savvy parents will quietly observe the things that are said and done with this friend and have a clue of the things the child is working out. It is not necessary to intervene, however it can give parents a heads up on what is on the child’s mind.

There seems to be much debate about the creativity factor of those children who have imaginary friends. Studies are inconclusive. However, it would be fair to say that while a child is interacting with their imaginary companion they are using creativity.

There a great number of things a child can safely explore with an imaginary friend. Since the child carries on both sides of the conversation, it would be the same as and adult thing out loud. A child could practice social skills and getting along with others. A child can actually have a safe argument with an imaginary friend. There is no real fear of being physically hurt. It gives the child someone to blame for misbehavior and the parent a way to teach a lesson using the “imaginary friend’s” behavior.

Imaginary friends give a child someone to boss around. Parents may be surprised when they recognize some of the common phrases used in the home and how the child interprets the tone. Parents can use it as a quick check to see if the messages are coming across in the manner intended.

Be certain, as a parent, if you wish to communicate with an imaginary friend that you use the child to deliver the news. Some examples are:

“Please tell Emma that Mom says it is bedtime so everyone needs to go to bed now.”

“Please let George know you are going to preschool now.”

“Please tell James, that if he makes a mess like this again you will have to clean it up for him.”

This preserves the personal relationship the child had established with their imaginary friends.

If you are concerned that your child is going beyond the realms or normal, check with your pediatrician. Other than that , keep journal entries. Your adult child will be interested to hear about the stories.