“Mom!” shouts your five-year old, as she swings gleefully, high in the air. “Give Tommy a shove too!”
Puzzled, you look at the empty swing next to her and give it a few soft nudges. Tommy, as it turns out, has curly hair and is your daughter’s best friend and is well… non-existent.
Imaginary friends or pretend friends are a social and psychological phenomenon where a close relationship develops in the imagination rather than in reality. This friend can be in the form of another child, a magical person or an animal. Although they seem very real to their creators, researchers assure parents that children know that their invisible friends are not real. At this point in life, they can differentiate between reality and fantasy quite well and their figment of imagination is not a result of them being delusional.
Should Parents Worry?
Imaginary friends have been proven to be a healthy and natural part of children’s development. There are several ways in which an imaginary friend is actually helping your child. Consider the bright side. Your child’s pretend buddy is always there. The friend is agreeable and your child conveys and expresses many things through them. They are their scapegoats. They belong only to your kid and he/she doesn’t have to share their imaginary buddies with anyone.
If you see your child playing with imaginary buddies, here is what you can do to help the situation.
Do not assume that this pretend friend is a result of your child’s loneliness or some other underlying problem. It is common and very normal for children in pre-school to have imaginary friends. Don’t try to force your child to ditch their friends. This will only make the situation more difficulty. Just relax and take it easy. Imaginary friends disappear as children grow up.
Show some enthusiasm
Since the imaginary friend is going to stick around for a while, you might as well be friends with it too. Show some interest by talking to your child about their pretend friend. Ask questions like “What do you two like to do together?” This will not only allow you to bond with your kid, it will also boost their creativity up a notch. But don’t go overboard in trying to get to know the invisible pal or they may stick around for longer. In short, just don’t bring up the imaginary friend unless your child talks about them.
Draw a Line
Set certain limits on the imaginary friend’s non-existent activities. If your child continues to make trouble and blames the friend for it, you can put the foot down and explain that blaming your mistakes on someone else is actually lying. Or let your child know that their imaginary friend will have to follow the house rules too, while they are here.
While imaginary buddies are definitely entertaining your child, make sure they spend a healthy amount of time playing with their siblings and real friends as well. Plan outings and hang outs and encourage your child to socialize with people. Keep your children engaged in the real world so they say goodbye to their pretend pals soon.
How Imaginary Friends can be Helpful
Growing up from being toddlers to entering school years, your child has to deal with a lot of changes. To cope with the transitions, they fascinate themselves with imagination and make-believe things. They believe in tooth fairies, Easter bunnies, Santa Claus and ghosts. And hence, they spin up an imaginary friend who is brave and always there for them. For instance, if they are afraid of the dark, the pretend friend will be there to keep them company.
Here are a few different ways in which the imaginary friend is helpful to not only your child but to you as well.
An imaginary friend is your child’s playmate and provides constant companionship. They also make up your child’s private life that they do not have to share them with adults. Furthermore, they get to boss someone else around for a change when they are the ones being told what to do all the time. It makes them feel they have some control too. Your child can test and try different things with them and play creative games that only they understand.
A Way of Channeling Emotions
You can tap into your child’s mind by observing their relationship with their pretend buddy. If your kid says their friend is afraid of the dark, then your kid is too. If your child is usually obedient but the friend does naughty things, then you can figure out that your kid is inclined towards them too. If the friend is always misbehaving and being punished, you can judge that your child feels there are too many rules in their life too.
If you find your child being cross with the friend too often, it is a telltale sign that your child feels adults are cross with them frequently and they are blowing off steam on the friend.
Made up friend’s boost the confidence level up a notch and teach kids to stand up to bullies.
Children can express how they feel by placing their friends in the troubled scenario. They also make their friends say things they wish to speak but they wouldn’t because it would ruffle some feathers. For example, “Tommy does not like it when you shout, daddy.” This also allows you to be mindful of your child’s worries.
It makes sense that children who invent imaginary friends may be lonely or have social issues but researches do not support the notions. In fact, children with pretend friends are more creative, less shy and more proactive than other children. Having an imaginary friend is a plus if a child is going through difficult times or coping with any sort of trauma.
An imaginary friend is your child’s way of exploring ideas, feeling grown up, taking charge and creating imaginary scenarios and possible outcomes. This helps them deal with real life situations better and with time, these friends disappear. So enjoy with your kids while the friends last and treat them as an addition to the family whenever necessary.