Plenty of kids have imaginary friends while growing up. And plenty of parents worry. Generally speaking, having an imaginary friend won't do much harm to a young child and parents tend to usually overreact about it. In fact, sometimes having an imaginary friend can help the child, who can grow up to be more creative, talkative, and empathetic.
Imaginary friends can also help children deal with their own emotions as they maneuver around certain tough life situations they might find themselves in from a young age.
An imaginary friend is also a companion that is always there, and that is very comforting for young children. However, sometimes parents rightfully worry as having an imaginary friend can also lead to the child being less social, more disruptive and there is a risk they might be bullied by their peers.
It is essential that parents talk to their child about their imaginary friend frequently, and that they pay close attention towards any potential changes they see in their child and their behavior, in order to evaluate whether those changes are positive or negative.
Here are 10 good things having an imaginary friend can bring to a child, as well as 10 reasons that might be concerning.
Let's start with the 10 benefits....
20 It Promotes Creativity
Kids who are imaginative enough to imagine a friend are also pretty creative. And by constantly engaging with their imaginary friend, they are fueling their creativity even more!
It does take a very creative mind to not only imagine a whole other person but to also imagine all the things that person says or does. So if a kid is having an imaginary friend, parents will most of the time simultaneously notice an increase in creativity of the child, and this can be even further nourished by encouraging the child (and their imaginary friend) to do a creative activity such as drawing or crafting.
19 Better Vocabulary
We all know the best way to improve a toddlers vocabulary or even get them to start talking is by actually talking to them. And while ideally they would be talked to pretty much all day long, parents can't manage to do that, as they generally have plenty of other things to do as well, which means kids are sometimes left to entertain themselves.
And if they entertain themselves by imagining a friend, that also means that they are talking and/or being talked to in their heads, and thereby they are working on their vocabulary.
Plenty of studies have been done to support this theory, but even to a plain eye it totally makes sense.
18 It Promotes Abstract Thinking
Now while some kids struggle with abstract thinking even when they get older, those who had (or still have) an imaginary friend tend to be way better at it. Again, it has to do with imagining something that isn't actually there, and visualizing it in a very unique way, only known to the child. Abstract thinking is definitely a very important skill for children to learn and understand, as a lot of things humans think about or deal with on a daily basis are abstract, so the sooner the child gets accustomed to that, the better it is for them.
17 The Child Can Be More Confident
Children who have imaginary friends are not only more creative and have better vocabularies, but they also tend to be more confident on average. In a world where confidence is a huge issue for a lot of grown-ups, parents should definitely encourage their children to be and stay confident, even when their imaginary friend is long gone. A part of why they tend to be more confident is the fact that they feel like they always have someone there with them, someone who's always on their side, and quite frankly, there's absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way.
16 Better Social Skills
Because those kids with an imaginary friend always have someone around they also naturally tend to more easily develop better social skills, and they also develop them faster than other kids. Even though these interactions are a product of their imagination, they are still very much real to them, and they can even sometimes by slightly uncomfortable which means they learn how to deal with all sorts of social situations very early on.
Every skill they learn through interactions with their imaginary friend, they will later on use with their actual friends, making their imaginary friend a great "trial and error" friend.
15 Better Understanding Of Others' Emotions
According to some studies, kids with imaginary friends tend to be more empathetic towards others and they usually accept and understand other people's emotions much better.
This is a very important human trait, and if having an imaginary friend can contribute towards it, then parents should definitely accept their child's imaginary friend.
Besides, better understanding other peoples' emotions comes directly from also understanding our emotions first. And who doesn't want their child to grow into a person who understands, accepts and has their emotions in check?
Seriously, we pretty much all want to get to that stage of self-acceptance.
14 The Child Always Has Someone To Play With
We all know how busy a parent's life can be, and if they have an only child, sometimes entertaining it falls down to playing them a movie on TV, and hoping it entertains them enough so that the parents can do errands around the house. But with kids who have an imaginary friend, being entertained isn't really an issue, as they feel like they have someone to hang out with all the time. Sure it's all happening in their head, but hey, if that means the parents can vacuum or do laundry while the kid plays with their imaginary friend, that that isn;t all that bad.
13 It Gives The Child The Opportunity To Be In Control
One thing that everyone seeks at some point is control. And honestly, little kids don't have much of it.
But that certainly doesn't mean they don't seek it. By having an imaginary friend, they allow themselves to be in charge of something, and while they might be too young to pick what they will wear or what they will eat, they sure can pick it for their friend. And craving a bit of control at a young age is completely normal, as young children see it in all the grown-ups surrounding them and they want to know what it's like.
12 It Can Help A Child Process And Cope With Life Events
When kids at a young age face certain difficult family situations such as loss of someone close to them, or their parents' divorce, having an imaginary friend can really benefit them in coping with the situation and their own emotions. Sometimes, children are too young to even understand why certain things are happening around them, so having someone who they feel is kind of in the same situation with them (especially if they're only children) can be highly beneficial. It is also quite common for children to first develop having an imaginary friend in these kinds of life events they need to deal with.
11 It Helps A Child Voice Their Concern
Sometimes, kids aren't comfortable voicing their opinions or complaining to their parents or other family members, especially if those are strict. So it isn't of any surprise that those kids sometimes voice their own opinions or concerns through their imaginary friend.
How does this go down? Well, the kid would generally say things such as, "My friend Anna doesn't like that..." or "My friend Brian would love to go there...".
This way they feel a bit more protected from their parents reaction, as if it is a negative one, they feel as if it wasn't actually them who asked for something or voiced an opinion, but their friend did.
And these are the 10 reasons a parent might be concerned...
10 May Distract The Child From Interacting With Real People
Kids who have an imaginary friend are sort of distracted all the time. This means that when an actual person is talking to them, they may not be listening carefully, as they are simultaneously having a conversation or interaction with their imaginary friend. Of course, this is hard to tell for whomever is talking to them, but if parents notice that their child is often distracted or doesn't remember certain things having happened or being told to them, this could be a potential reason.
The best way to go about this is to ask the child and make sure they have their full attention every time they talk to them.
9 The Imaginary Friend Tells The Child To Do Dangerous Things
One thing that parents often fear when their child is having an imaginary friend is how that friend is going to influence their child.
Now obviously, the friend is a product of their imagination, but that doesn't mean the friend has to be a good friend, it can also be a bad one.
In particular, the child can imagine that the friend is telling them to do things, and sometimes those things could be bad or dangerous. If parents notice that things are developing this way, they should definitely contact a professional to make sure they stop things before the child and its imaginary friend take them too far.
8 The Child Withdraws From Society
One thing parents are quite worried about, and for good reason, is the fact that having an imaginary friend can distract the child from wanting to hang out with their real friends, and obviously that isn't good. While, as we've seen, having an imaginary friend can be beneficial, it is crucial that it doesn't overtake the child's life, and that time for actual friends and family is still made. And it is every parent's job to make sure that a child with an imaginary friend doesn't withdraw from society. Human interactions are crucial for children to grow into healthy and happy people.
7 The Child's Fantasy World Becomes Reality
While being creative and imaginative are two great attributes children have and should cherish, it isn't too good if they lose themselves in their own imagination and can't tell reality from what their mind is creating apart. If the kid is talking to or experiencing plenty of things that aren't actually there, it is a reason for the parent's concern, and in that case they need to contact a professional who can help them and their child deal with this.
As exciting as a fantasy world might seem to a child, at the end of the day the reality is where they actually live, and they need to realize that.
6 The Child Becomes Quiet
Kids can often be quiet for plenty of reasons. Sometimes the child is just shy and isn't super talkative and that is completely fine.
But sometimes the child is quiet simply because they are hanging out with their imaginary friend in their own head, and it isn't healthy if this happens too often.
Children need actual human interaction, and parents should insist on that. Of course, they need to deal with the child gently, and encourage them to be more talkative in a way that they won't feel attacked by. It's best to start by wanting to engage with them and their imaginary friend as well.
5 The Child Is Acquiring Disruptive Behaviors
If the child is becoming physically disruptive, a possible cause for that could lie within their imaginary friend, what kind of personality that friend has and what kind of conversations and interactions the two have. Noticing an abrupt change in the child's behavior happening almost at the same time as they are mentioning their new imaginary friend can lead to a conclusion that those two are almost certainly connected.
Again, in such a case parents should definitely reach out to a trained professional who will help them deal with their child's problematic behavior in the best and most painless way.
4 The Child Is Being Bullied
A common reason parents worry about their child which is having an imaginary friend is the fact that if the child's friends or classmates find out about the friend, they might end up bullying the kid. And no parent wants their child to be mistreated by their peers, so it is natural that this is of concern to them. Sometimes parents can't control what is going on between their child and other children, but they can take some precautionary measures by telling the child to maybe keep their imaginary friend a secret, or if that isn't an option, then letting the other parents know about the situation so that they can talk and explain it to their children.
3 The Child Blames Their Imaginary Friend
It is crucial that children are taught to take responsibility for their actions from a very young age on, and if a child is using their imaginary friend to get rid of their own responsibility and just blame them, then that's no good. Parents need to make sure that they clarify to the child that anything the child does, regardless whether it has been suggested by an imaginary or real friend of theirs, is still their own choice, and they are the one responsible for the consequences.
This is why it is important to teach children that they can say no to their friend's suggestions if they are not comfortable with them.
2 The Child Is Alone A Lot
One reason kids may begin to develop imaginary friends is that they spend a lot of time alone, but sometimes they end up spending a lot of time alone because they have an imaginary friend.
It is important for the parents to establish which one came first so that they could properly address the problem. Either way, spending lots of time alone, especially at such a young age is not healthy for a child, and it is a parents responsibility to make sure that the child has appropriate company.
It is fine that parents are busy, but that doesn't mean they can just leave their child alone.
1 The Child's Imaginary Friend Won't Go Away
Every child is different, which means that for every child the imaginary friend can stay for a different amount of time, but it should go away at some point. Some kids only hang out with their imaginary friend for a month or two, While for others it can last even up to three years.
Sometimes the friend will go away for a bit and then come back again, and all of that is alright. However if the parents feel as if the imaginary friend should have disappeared after a few years, especially if the child is too old to have one, they should again reach out to a professional.