I thought I had heard her outside talking to someone. Carefully walking over to the fence, I quietly peeked over the top so she would not know I was there. Before me was a sight that completely baffled me. There was my little five-year old daughter sitting in a circle of rocks. As I watched her, I soon realized that each one of these rocks had a name. These were her “friends” and she was talking, laughing, and even scolding them. I tried not to laugh, carefully slipped from my perch, and headed back into the house.
This story rings a bell with many parents. Although maybe not a circle of rocks, many children have imaginary friends. There is no reason to be alarmed. This is a child’s way to deal with loneliness or boredom. This is perfectly healthy. The first thought is that something is wrong. Keep in mind that as a child nears the age of three, their imagination goes into full speed. If your child is an only child and not yet in school or the younger child of a sibling in school, do not be surprised if one day your child is playing with their “friend.”
In fact, having an imaginary friend helps your child practice manners, speech, and interaction. Since these are valuable skills, your child’s imaginary friend is actually helping. Even though an imaginary friend is normal and could be helping your child develop, are there things that parents should do? Unless your child mentions the imaginary friend to you, do not ask.
If you are told about the imaginary friend, you need to show support. What happens if your child asks you to join her or him in play with the imaginary friend? Go ahead and play but allow your child to direct you. The only thing you would guide is if at any point your child blames the friend for something, they did. For example, if your child colored on his or her bedroom wall and then tells you that their friend did it, that is not acceptable.
For children up to age five, defining reality and really getting a grasp on it is difficult. Although the closer to age five a child becomes, when they would normally lose the friend, some children have imaginary friends all the way up to age 10. You as the parent do not want to accept your child’s friend after age five but don’t reprimand your child for having one either.
The things that you can do to help are to have a good communication and interaction with your child. Be sure that you are spending adequate time with them and engaging in role-playing with them. You know, with a young daughter perhaps you can have a “tea party.” With a son, you could pretend that he is a doctor. This type of play is important, helping your child’s development. Starting with your child in this manner will establish a sound relationship built on self-confidence and trust.