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Imaginary Friends: Is it Okay to Believe?

Imaginary friends have been portrayed in a negative light, often making parents feel that their child may be anti-social, shy, or have low self-esteem. And what would the other parents think if your little Cindy starts talking about her new pretend friend? Would they think you are not spending enough time with your child or that she's not developing properly?

Relax! The other parents will probably tell you that their child also has an imaginary friend - maybe two. The truth is that about 2/3 of kids children have played with or have spoken to an imaginary friend by the time they are seven years old.

Your child is expressing his creativity by coming up with an imaginary friend. Maybe it's a dragon, a teddy bear or another person who makes him feel more comfortable in social situations or just a partner for play. Children, no matter how young, have secrets they do not want to tell parents and the imaginary friend is their outlet to speak their minds. Pretend friends also help in your child's development of right verses wrong. If you hear your child blame the broken picture frame on her new friend, she has demonstrated that she knew what she did was wrong, but is not ready to own up to the responsibility.

Boys Town Pediatrics offers a few parenting tips  parents a few guidelines to help lay down some "friendly" rules:

  • Do not let the imaginary friend be your child's only friend. Be sure your child is social in school or daycare, or schedule play dates with other kids children your child's age.
  • Acknowledge that the friend exists (figuratively speaking). Listen and comprehend when your child describes his friend's talents, likes and dislikes and other unique attributes.
  • Do not let your child blame all mishaps on the imaginary friend.

Because imaginary friends are companions to small children, parents should be advised to not make a big deal about the imaginary friend. That means not telling your child she shouldn't have an imaginary friend or that the friend is not real. This may lead to hurt feelings. And parents shouldn't go to the other extreme and set an extra place setting at the dinner table so the friend can join the family. The friends may just stick around a little longer and appear more often if he's always welcome. Basically, just go with the flow. Most children will outgrow their imaginary friend. In the meantime, parents should be open to the creativity their child is inventing.

If you have questions about your child's development, contact your child's physician.