“Imaginary friends” have been a part of children for centuries. Seeing a child engaged in conversation with their “friend” can be of concern for some parents and caregivers alike; they might wonder how they can handle the situation. Should they attempt to stifle the child’s interaction with his or her imaginary friend, or support such activity? Research studies have shown there are developmental benefits to a child who has a “pretend companion”.
Having someone to play with who “isn’t there”, leaves plenty of room for growth in the creative sphere of a child’s brain. Children often come up with games and activities that they and their friend can engage in together. This opens up creative thinking and allows them to invent a world within their mind. The result of that can lead to many beautiful things as your child grows, giving them the ability to think outside of the box in situations such as school projects.
When your child talks to their imaginary friend, they are providing both sides of the conversation but only having his or her response be vocal. They create a two-way conversation, thus giving them practice in conversing with adults and other children. Researchers have also determined that children with an imaginary friend, develop “private speech”. The inner conversation happening in their brain gives them the ability to organize their thoughts and plan their next response, which is beneficial in problem solving skills development.
Some parents believe that a child with an imaginary friend will experience damaged socializing skills. That is not the case at all. Children with imaginary friends, tend to be more outgoing and sociable with other children. For example, they can use the games they created with their imaginary friend with real humans, by giving them interaction practice.
Children with imaginary companions, confide in them when they encounter difficult situations such as, scary movies, a fight with a sibling or friend, moving to a new house, etc. Having a pretend person to talk to and help them through such situations, allows them to develop talking about their feelings out loud when they are having a problem, or are upset.
If your child develops an imaginary friend, don’t worry! The experience will help them grow mentally and socially.