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Dealing with your child’s imaginary friend

Imaginary friends grow out of healthy active imaginations. They give children a great way to express their feelings and a playmate to practise their social skills with. Two out of three children have imaginary friends, so it’s likely your child will bring one home at some stage.

What are imaginary friends?

Imaginary friends are pretend friends that your child makes up in his imagination.

Imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes. They can be based on someone your child already knows, a storybook character or even a soft toy with human-like features. Or they can come purely from your child’s imagination.

These friends can always be there, or they might come and go. They might exist only in certain spots like the cubby house or at the kitchen table. And they will appear and disappear for no apparent reason along the way.

When do imaginary friends appear and how long do they last?

Children as young as two and a half years can have an imaginary friend.

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Children will usually stop playing with make-believe friends – whether they have one, several or even a whole family of them – when they’re ready to move on. Imaginary friends are most likely to be around for several months, but they could be a feature of your child’s life for up to three years.

Why do children have imaginary friends?

Your child’s imaginary friend could be someone who:

  • listens to and supports your child
  • plays with your child
  • can do things that your child can’t do
  • is special and belongs only to your child
  • doesn’t judge or find fault with your child.

Your child is in charge of what the imaginary friend says, what the friend does and who this special friend can ‘play’ with. This could be part of the friend’s appeal too.

Imaginary friends allow children to explore a make-believe world that they create all by themselves. In fact, children with make-believe friends might be more imaginative and more likely to enjoy fantasy play and magical stories.

The way children play with or talk about their friends can tell you a lot about how they’re feeling. Make-believe friends give you insight into your child’s inner world, and likes, dislikes and tastes.

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Written by PH

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