Despite many prejudices around it, the phenomenon of imaginary friends is quite widespread. 65% of the children before seven are estimated to have played with one (Russel, 2019). The problem appears understudied, but imaginary friends are known to be a contributing element of any child’s life. Such pals improve their friends’ lives, being a way to overcome typical issues with sharing or, as in more severe cases, traumatic events. Parents aware of their sons’ or daughters’ make-believe friends must understand how to respond.
First, if a child lacks someone to share secrets with, an imaginary companion can be a compensation mechanism. Such a situation may occur not only if one is lonely – some experience issues sharing private thoughts even with their parents, and it is normal. Sharing is a vital social skill that helps individuals to establish deep relationships with others like friendship or love (Haslip, Allen-Handy, & Donaldson, 2019). Therefore, an imaginary friend can help to develop an essential ability.
Secondly, although make-believe pals are considered a rare sign of emotional problems, they can be a sign of traumatic experience. Imagination is commonly used as a response-reaction among children and even applied as a therapeutic method by specialists (Haen, 2020). In this case, diverse events can be considered a trauma: sexual abuse or poverty (Russel, 2019). Hence, an imaginary friend becomes a trusted confidant that is replaced by psychiatrists in adulthood.
Finally, parents and caregivers should react correctly. They should be especially careful as a demonstration of a broad interest in an imaginary friend can scare one, or, in other words, make a child hide the fact of its presence in their life (Russel, 2019). However, it does not mean that adults do not need to use an opportunity to learn about their children’s inner thoughts. Individuals with made-up friends also know they are unreal, but parents should in no way emphasize it (Russel, 2019). Therefore, imaginary companions present a chance for parents to get to know their children better.
To conclude, being a widespread phenomenon, make-believe friends are a typical element of children’s lives, though they may indicate psychological issues of different levels. Not only can such pals serve as trusted confidants and help an individual to develop essential skills like sharing, but they also can be a response-reaction to a trauma. Parents should not lose the opportunity to learn about their children’s personalities more via imaginary friends.
Haen, C. (2020). The roles of metaphor and imagination in child trauma treatment. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 19(1), 42 – 55.
Haslip, M., Allen-Handy, A., & Donaldson, L. (2019). How do children and teachers demonstrate love, kindness and forgiveness? Findings from an early childhood strength-spotting intervention. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47, 531 – 547.
Russel, M. (2019). All about…imaginary friends. Nursery World, 2, 23 – 26.