There are many schools of thought that portray imaginary friends in a negative light. Parents feel that when their child has an imaginary friend, he has got to be shy, anti-social or probably have low self-esteem. The truth however, is that two thirds of children have had an imaginary friend in their childhood. Professionals at daycare centers and preschools also believe that this is normal behaviour.
By having an imaginary friend, your child is actually tapping into his creative side. He may have a teddy or Casper or a dragon as a friend and it might be someone that makes him comfortable in stressful situations, like when he is in bed alone at night. It could also be someone that entertains him when he is playing alone. An imaginary friend is sometimes the one children tell all their secrets too. Pretend friends are sometimes helpful in the development of young children. You might sometimes hear your child blaming or scolding his pretend friend for a broken toy. This shows that your child knows it was wrong behaviour, but probably not ready to own up to it himself.
Our daycare child development specialists have come up with a few guidelines for parents of children with imaginary friends:
Ensure that your child has real friends too. See that he is sociable in his daycare and meets up with other children to play on a regular basis.
When your child talks about his imaginary friend, acknowledge his friend and listen to your child describe him or her.
The imaginary friend is your child’s companion. Don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t tell your child that his friend does not exist. Hurting your child’s feelings will only make him go deeper in a shell of aloofness. On the other hand, don’t go to the other extreme and set a place for this imaginary friend at the dinner table. Just go with the flow and stay neutral. Most children outgrow this phase sooner or later.