It isn’t uncommon for children to create imaginary friends: someone for them to talk to, interact and play with. Research shows that two thirds of children up to the age of seven years, and over a quarter of children aged 5 to 12 years have an imaginary friend. These pretend friends can be invisible, something fantastical, a pet, inanimate object or a soft toy.
The benefits of imaginary friends include: –
- Providing a safe way to practise friendship skills: to learn how to resolve arguments and to share. The child will be able to look at situations from the imaginary friend’s perspective, making it easier for them to appreciate other people’s points of view.
- More opportunities to develop language and communication skills. As a result of additional speaking and listening practice, children with imaginary friends tend to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentence structures.
- Alternative ways to cope with difficult issues: the birth of a sibling, a separation, bereavement or a house move. The child can share the emotional burden with their pretend friend: talking through the situation, thinking of solutions to problems or simply venting pent-up emotions.
- Provide companionship. The imaginary friend will always be on call whenever the child is bored or lonely and has no one to play with. The imaginary friend will supply unconditional love and acceptance.
- Improving the child’s creativity and imaginative play. Imaginary friends are a sign of a child’s creative resourcefulness. Children with imaginary friends will have a rich internal private life that is totally under their control. The child will have opportunities to experiment with more creative play without risking others laughing at them.
- Exploring different roles. The child can experiment and adopt alternative roles: caring for their friend, explaining that it is bedtime so they have to switch off the TV, bossing the friend about or shouting at them. The imaginary friend is all forgiving, so children can safely test out strong emotions like anger, jealousy and fear.
Imaginary friends will not be around for ever, but are very useful whilst present.