Imaginary Friends

By Julia Price

June 8, 2018 5 min read

Your child may have an imaginary friend that over time has become part of your family in one way or another. Well, according to Psychology Today, not only is that completely normal but studies show that most children who invent a friend are actually more socially engaging, outgoing and confident than those who don't. Perhaps this invisible friend is actually a coping mechanism to help your child feel stronger out in the world or to feel safer in going outside her or his comfort zone. Understanding this can help you to embrace the benefits of this companionship and explain it to other parents or teachers should any concern come up.

If you're feeling less supportive of your child's bringing her or his imaginary friend to school, there are ways you can express that while playing along. For example, you might say: "Susie, I really need 'Joey' to come to work with me today because I am feeling nervous about a big presentation I have to give and could really use his help. Would you mind if he came with me today instead of with you?" Or: "Joey asked me whether he could stay home and watch over your room while you're at school. How do you feel about that?" Maybe you're not looking to include your child in the decision, in which case you can create a firmer and more decisive scenario. Just keep in mind that if this imaginary friend is a way for your child to deal with fear, taking that away could create quite a panic that needs to be talked through.

On the other hand, perhaps you have no issue with your kid's invisible bestie but you're concerned that the teacher and other parents will. A simple way to address this is to send an email to the other parents and let them know about "Joey" the friend. Most likely, many of them have experienced or are currently going through the same thing with one of their children. Ideally, you will receive support, but even if you don't, as long as you stand strong in knowing that nearly 37 percent of children have an imaginary friend, you can trust that at least one of those parents (or the teacher) has encountered this situation before. Going directly to the teacher is another method of handling the situation that can make you feel empowered. Chances are that this isn't the first time the teacher has had this happen, so the teacher may even have some tips that he or she has learned along the way.

Though most playtime with an imaginary friend is innocent, psychologists say there are some red flags you should watch for, and you can make your child's teacher aware of these, as well:

--The imaginary friend is violent or threatening in some way.

--The imaginary friend is suddenly the responsible one for anything bad your child does.

--The imaginary friend becomes more important or desirable than real human interactions or friendships.

--The imaginary friend has a disturbing or dark back story. This could be an indirect way of your kid's trying to communicate something she or he experienced firsthand or overheard someone else sharing.

--Your child is at an age where you feel that her or his continuing to have an imaginary friend seems more like an avoidance tactic than innocent play.

--Anything that feels off in your gut -- trust that and explore further.

As with anything in life, the more you understand the root of how and why the imaginary friend is part of your child's life the more comfortable you'll feel, which will naturally make others feel comfortable, as well. Children are inherently curious by nature, so they will most likely want to ask questions about the imaginary friend or even share tales of their own. If bullying occurs, you'll want to bring that up immediately and have a talk with your child about how not everyone believes or understands things the same way.

The more compassion and patience that you can exercise around the imaginary friend the more of a bond you'll create with your child, with the goal being that your child feels that she or he can come to you with any problem and know that you're a trustworthy ally to share with.

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