“Will your husband be here for dinner tonight? I’d like to meet him.”

“No, he’s working in Nashville. But you met him at our wedding!”

“Oh, I don’t remember that.”

“Yeah, you were there, but my mom was sick and couldn’t come. We had yummy green cake and a dance party, too.”

That is the conversation I had with one of my nieces last Thanksgiving. She had an imaginary husband for a few months and I enjoyed hearing her tales about him. I learned that he fixes motorcycles, works a lot, misses out on every family dinner, and is quite funny. It’s cute and honest while she’s three and designs crafty stories about him. But beyond the adorableness, should I be worried that she is creating imaginary friends?

Actually, it’s common for young children to create imaginary friends.

(Take a deep breath. It’s normal!) Before the age of 2 the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe of the brain begins to develop further; these are the areas of higher level thinking that allow imagination and invisible friends to become a reality. This is typically the age where you child began to say “choo choo” for a train and “moo” for a cow, which means that they are gaining a deeper awareness of their world.

According to a recent study at the University of Oregon, nearly 65% of children aged seven or younger had an invisible friend at some point. Most kids create these friends as people, animals, or fantasy creatures. Sometimes there is only one friend, while other children may create multiple friends. Generally girls invent male or female friends, while boys only make male friends. Oldest children are more likely to create an imaginary friend for companionship. And children who do not watch much television also create invisible friends to entertain themselves instead of allowing boredom to rule.

But don’t be fooled.

You would assume that your child has created the “perfect friend.” On the contrary, these invisible friends may not be kind or cooperative. This allows your child to practice being in control and to experience both sides to a conversation.

But what if

your child older than 7 and still has an imaginary friend? No worries. Pre-teens who have imaginary companions are equipped with better coping skills even though they don’t have high social skills. By the end of high school, those levels tend to balance out. Also, teenagers who still have an invisible friend didn’t tend to use that “friend” as a substitute for real peers.

But, is your child using their imaginary friend to get out of misbehaviors? Does your kid blame the spilled milk or stolen cookie on the invisible companion? If so, your child is trying to avoid your anger, test your boundaries, and try to get away with more. Imply the same rules for the imaginary friend as you would for your child. “Well, is your friend made the mess, it still needs to be cleaned up before bedtime.”

Children with imaginary friends tend to:

If you child

avoids his/her peers, becomes violent to others, blames all poor behaviors on their friends, or begins to develop fear for their imaginary companion, it may be time to seek out counsel of your pediatrician or a psychologist.

Until then, play along! Ask questions to discover more about this invisible peer. Perhaps you will discover your child’s deeper interests, feelings, fears, or desires by doing so. And truthfully, you will probably be quite entertained by some of the answers your kid comes up with!

Jana

Jana is the odd one out. Not a parent herself, she writes from the perspective of a young baby sitter. Experienced in making bedtime fun, she brings a unique perspective to parenting. She hopes that all she learns now will make the magic of being a parent just that extra bit special. She has no fixed address and is vagabonding around the globe, widening her world view.