How to Talk to Your Kids About…Imaginary Friends

Last updated on April 2nd, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Why Imaginary Friends?

Being a toddler can feel very restrictive. Always being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Older siblings and friends want your toys and you are always competing for attention. Imaginary friends are the ideal companions. They never take your toys, they do what you say, and never steal your attention. They can also serve as an outlet for children to express their emotions, a scapegoat to blame things on, and can serve as a protector when kids are scared.

Imaginary friends can worry parents. We are afraid that something is wrong with our child or that they won’t ever have real friends. There is no need to worry. Good research shows us that kids who have imaginary friends have plenty of real friends. They are creative, independent and sociable.

As parents, how should we talk to our children about imaginary friends?

DON’T make fun of imaginary friends, or make your kids feel dumb for having them.

DON’T initiate, by asking about the imaginary friend. Wait until your child initiates to play along.

DON’T let your child use their imaginary friend as an escape goat.

DON’T use the imaginary friend to get your child to do what you want.

  • DO welcome and accept the imaginary friend. Just keep it in the context of pretend. As adults, we can pretend too.
  • DO provide lots of opportunities for your child to use their imagination. Play with them so they learn how to role-play and make believe.
  • DO spend plenty of time with your child so they aren’t making up friends because they aren’t getting enough attention from you.
  • DO provide opportunities for your child to communicate and express their feelings, so they don’t use imaginary friends to communicate how they feel.

And most important…

  • DO learn from the experience. Imaginary friends can give valuable insight into how your child really feels. If the imaginary friend is scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to bed, it could mean your child is afraid of the dark. Listen to what your child’s imaginary friend is saying and be open to the insights it might provide.

Having an imaginary friend is very normal. Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.

Until then, be open and kind to your family’s new addition.

About the Author

Heather Ann Johnson is a homemaker, wife and mother. She and her husband have 4 children. She is an Adjunct Faculty member at Brigham Young University where she teaches students the principles behind successful families. Her blog, Family Volley, answers reader’s questions about families, marital relationships, and raising children. A firm believer that families should play together, Family Volley features a new activity or game for families every Friday. Heather is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team

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