Imaginary friends tend to reflect strong cognitive, social, and emotional skills in young children, rather than being a cause for concern.
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Creating a fantasy friend requires a child to do a lot of mental work – they create something to see and feel out of thin air, right inside their own head. Now that’s an impressive accomplishment.
Imaginary friends don’t indicate, as was previously features, a reluctance to interact with real people, nor are they a sign of social delay. On the contrary, creating imaginary playmates likely results from wanting to interact with peers more than their environment allows. This may be why firstborns tend to have more imaginary friends than their siblings, and children who attend daycare are less likely to do so than their non-daycare counterparts.
Imaginary friends carry generally positive meanings early in life and are linked to longer-term creativity. Imaginary friends offer opportunities for the teaching and modeling of social skills by creating examples of situations and small dilemmas for a child to resolve. Accepting this phase as part of normal development and being sensitive to your child’s social needs by providing a wider range of social interactions can be useful at this time.
Acknowledging the companion’s existence, setting an extra place at mealtime, providing props to use in imaginary play or even drawing a picture of an imaginary companion together can also send welcome signals of acceptance and encouragement to your child.
A note about the author:
Dr. Randa Grob-Zakhary, MD Ph.D. is the Founder of The Babyboost Institute for Early Learning and Development. Want more tips? Purchase Babyboost: 50 Critical Facts on Amazon.