Between 3 and 5 years old, several children discover a new friend straight out of their imagination. This phenomenon is perfectly normal and affects more than one in four children. Far from being disturbing, the appearance of such a friend is a sign of imagination and creativity.
The imaginary friend may be invisible or embodied in a stuffed animal, for example. Some imaginary friends take a lot of space while others are rather discreet. Gradually, your child will learn to differentiate between his imaginary world and reality. Often, the imaginary friend disappears at the age of 7. However, there is no need to worry if it stays longer.
Seniors in the family and single children would be more likely to have an imaginary friend. It’s a way for them to tame moments of loneliness. In addition, the imaginary friend allows them to live the situations they need to learn to live with others, which is less necessary when surrounded by friends. The imaginary friend, however, is not an obstacle to the formation of real friendships, on the contrary. The child trains with him to better practice his social skills.
For a child, creating an imaginary friend can also be a strategy for adapting to a new situation. She can help her cope with stressful situations ( separation, the arrival of a new baby, etc.) and overcome a difficulty. The presence of his friend can reassure him if he is afraid in the dark, for example. The child can also use it to express disagreement or question you about the consequences of prohibited behavior.
How to react?
Most children know that their friend does not really exist and others do not see him. But some, especially the youngest ones, firmly believe in it. When a toddler talks about his imaginary friend, he does not try to lie. It is indeed a manifestation of his overflowing imagination. Avoid accusing or punishing him.
The presence of an imaginary friend is a good opportunity to make your child realize that his imagination can create beautiful things, but that it can also make monsters appear under his bed.
Here are some ideas to react to the presence of an imaginary friend:
- Rather than trying to convince your child that his imaginary friend does not exist, just tell him that you do not see him. You could also read a book about it (see references below).
- Enter your child’s game and ask him to tell you about his imaginary friend when he mentions it. You could discover different things about his inner world such as his desires, his interests or his fears. For example, if he tells you that his imaginary friend is worried about moving, your child is probably sharing his own fears. Be attentive and do not make fun of it.
- It is possible that your toddler uses his imaginary friend to cover up his nonsense. He seeks to reduce his guilt and avoid the consequences. Just tell him then to help his friend clean up his damage. The imaginary friend will probably do a lot less bad things if your child has to fix the broken pots. Little by little, he will also learn to assume his own actions.
- Accept the imaginary friend, but without giving it too much importance. For example, do not serve meals or leave him on the sofa. Avoid pretending to believe as much or more than your child and avoid talking about it if your child does not do it himself. This could lead to some confusion between the imaginary and the real in your little one.
When should you worry?
The imaginary friend is positive. On the other hand, if your child prefers to play with him rather than with others, he may need a boost to overcome his shyness. The imaginary friend is not the cause of his behavior, so it is useless to try to make him disappear. You would rather benefit from trying to create more opportunities for interaction with children. On the other hand, if the imaginary friend appears in a very stressful situation, such as a separation, it can also be a sign that your little one needs to be reassured.