There’s this other person or thing that lives in your home. You set a place for him at the dining table, wait for him to get dressed and listen as your child tells you how this stranger has had a bad day, or how happy he is that the stranger is happy. Wondering what this is about? It’s about your child’s imaginary friends.

What are imaginary friends?

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Imaginary friends are people or objects that live in your child’s imagination. You can’t see them, but your child will insist that he can. An imaginary friend may be a little girl, a superhero from a movie or a book, an octopus, or any animal straight from your child’s imagination. It can even be a shooting star. Imaginary friends may be only one or multiple. They may be temporary or permanent residents in your home. Sometimes, they inhabit only a particular spot, maybe the garden.

When do imaginary friends appear?

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More than half of all children aged 7 years have had an imaginary friend. Imaginary friendships may start when your child is about 3 years old. They may start when your child begins to understand that there are other people apart from him who may want things that are different from what he wants, or know things that he doesn’t know.

Why do children have imaginary friends?

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It is not clear why some children have imaginary friends and others don’t, but it is mostly agreed that it is a part of normal development. It does take an active imagination to conjure them up, therefore it is an indication of your child’s creativity. Imaginary friends listen to your child, encourage him, console him when he is sad and may be able to do things that your child wishes he could do.  Apart from keeping your child entertained, imaginary friends help your child to develop well. He learns social skills when he plays with and interacts with an imaginary friend. When he asks an imaginary friend to do something, he is learning to be a leader. Is he feeding the imaginary friend? He is practising his self-help skills.

Sometimes, your child’s imaginary friend may be a bother or get in the way. Examples are when everyone is ready to step out except the imaginary friend and you need to wait for him to get dressed, or when your child scribbles on the wall and insists it was done by his imaginary friend. You will need to firmly insist that the imaginary friend is not responsible for scribbling on the wall and ask your child to help with cleaning up the mess.

You need not worry about your child’s imaginary friend as long as said imaginary friend is not being destructive. If your child has no other friends or does not want to interact with anyone apart from his imaginary friends, or is afraid of his imaginary friend, be sure to mention it to his doctor. If your child has had a traumatic event prior to the entrance of this imaginary friend into your home, you need to seek the opinion of a doctor as well.

Humour your little one as he sees the magic in his world. Imaginary friends are there to help your child grow. Once a while, it won’t hurt to also bring out the child in you and see this magic too.

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