Does it scare you that your child has an imaginary friend? This is the normal reaction of any parent when faced with a phenomenon they cannot explain. Rest assured, however, that many more children than you might think invent imaginary companions. However, in order to be able to deal with this situation and understand the reasons behind it, it is important to learn about it.
Why do children make up imaginary friends?
Young children start to invent imaginary friends around the age of two and a half. Some of them appear and disappear quickly, others stay with them for a long time. In order to know how to react to this, it is necessary to know the origin of the playmate.
Being in control: The imaginary playmate gives your child the opportunity to control his environment, something he cannot do in the presence of his parents or other children. He can give orders, set rules and talk to him about whatever he wants. He does not have to share his toys with him. When faced with a fictitious friend who cannot defend himself, your child can be the biggest, the best-looking and the smartest.
Learning to manage their emotions: at this age, children discover new feelings, such as fear, anger and sadness. If he has difficulty expressing his displeasure, he will say that his friend hates eating spinach. If he is afraid of the dark, he can invent a brave and courageous friend who is ready to protect him from monsters under the bed. This makes him feel safer.
Having a friend who is always there: to avoid being alone, the young child can call on his or her imaginary friend at any time, unlike the real one, which he or she only sees for a few hours in the park or kindergarten.
Defying the rules: The child sometimes feels that his parents impose many rules and restrictions on him. Wanting to defy them, but not knowing how, he/she imagines a friend doing everything that is forbidden in his/her place. So when the parent wants to scold the child, the child finds someone else to blame and gets away with it.
Dealing with trauma: moving house or the death of a relative can traumatise young children who are still very fragile at this age. With the arrival of a little brother or sister, the child sometimes feels left out. They therefore invent a friend to find comfort in.
How to talk about it with your child?
In order to strengthen the bond with your child, it is best to take a rather calm approach when talking about this imaginary friend. You should start by asking what the friend’s name is, how old he is and what he looks like. If your child refuses to tell you, it is because he or she needs to keep the relationship private.
You can also try other strategies:
– Ask your child to invite his or her imaginary friend to the house.
– When setting the table, set an extra chair and plate for the friend to join you for dinner.
If you are going out to the park or shopping, you can allow your child to bring their imaginary friend with them.
– Try to find a place for this friend in the different games you share.
So, instead of trying to chase away this imaginary friend, it is better to use it to your advantage.
Should we be concerned?
Until the late 1990s, imaginary friends were a real problem for parents and doctors. They were a bad sign and a sign that the child must have problems: anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, etc. Recent research shows that, contrary to what was thought, imaginary friends help children to develop their personality and to cope with situations in their lives as children that they cannot handle alone.
For some child psychiatrists and psychologists, the imaginary friend is a materialization of the extent of the child’s creativity. The child will find it easier to make friends in kindergarten or at school and to approach real people because he or she has already had one or more imaginary friends with whom he or she has chatted for a long time.
Other studies have shown that inventing a playmate can greatly enrich a child’s vocabulary. The child can develop more complex sentences than those of friends of the same age. This can be explained by the fact that he has already participated in role-playing games with his fictitious buddies where he had to invent several dialogues and original ideas.
The child tends to abandon his or her imaginary friends once at school or when a delicate phase passes. However, if the child continues to isolate himself, does not make new friends and remains in his own little bubble, it is necessary to talk to his doctor.