Why does the imaginary friend appear, what needs does the child actually have and when should parents worry

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Many children have an imaginary friend, a character from their favorite cartoons, a monster or an animal that seems real to them. Up to a point, you shouldn’t worry. In some cases, you need to set limits.

Small children have a rich imagination. Sometimes, they will think they have a friend who doesn’t really exist. It could be someone they already know, a character from a story or movie, an animal or a creature they created. He might be with her all the time or he might appear and disappear. You can expect the little one to invent such friends from about two and a half years until school age. It can be something that lasts a few months, although there are children who have such friends for several years in a row. As an adult, it may scare you or make you think to see your child talking to someone who does not exist in the flesh, but it can be a beneficial behavior for him.

It helps him communicate

It is not by chance that imaginary friends appear around the age of three to five, at a time when children expand their vocabulary. An American study showed that children who have imaginary friends develop their language, are more creative and learn different things or a foreign language more easily. Also, these children become more independent from adults, more empathetic and more cooperative in the community. Therefore, no matter how fierce your child’s invented friend may seem, he is a positive character in your story.

Demonstrates a rich imagination

There is no evidence that the presence of an imaginary friend is a sign of a high IQ. However, it is a certainty that those children who have such companions are more empathetic, because they have the ability to put themselves in the place of those created by him. Also, children who imagine their friends tend to be more imaginative. There is no need for parents to worry about the existence of any suspicion of mental illness. It is not the same as dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder, which is extremely rare.

Overcomes stressful situations more easily

Entering kindergarten, moving from one home to another or losing a loved one can be events that children seem to adapt to more easily, but which can be stressful for them. In such conjunctures, it is possible to appear the imaginary friend who worries the parents, when, in fact, it should reassure them. It’s just a smart way to face challenges and keep your emotional health. Sometimes imaginary friends might appear in the absence of a sibling or fill a void that other playmates do not fill. Does he surprise you when he asks you to make room at the table for your imaginary friend? Get into his game and give him the attention he’s really asking for with this request to pay attention to him.

When it becomes a problem

The children are aware that these imaginary friends are not real, and even end up using them to control the family. It is good to spoil him and give him attention by accepting the friend he has created, but you have to set a limit when you blame him for his wrong behavior. He must learn that he is responsible for his own actions, without blaming anyone else. You should also intervene when he ends up preferring to spend time with his imaginary friend instead of playing with real friends, children his own age. Children who have imaginary friends tend to be more sociable than other children. However, if you notice that they refuse the company of other children, it is possible that they need the intervention of a psychotherapist, because it may be a case of social anxiety. This type of anxiety occurs in about 12% of people, including very shy children, and is manifested by restlessness, insecurity in certain social situations.

Some disappear suddenly, others stay for many years

Imaginary friends usually disappear by the age of nine, but some persist. Most of the time, they leave as quickly as they came, as children become more willing to spend time with real friends.

In some cases, it doesn’t really go away, but the child will stop talking about it for fear of being laughed at. Even if it persists, there is no cause for concern. You only need to intervene if it prevents him from interacting with children his own age.

Did you know that…

…some children choose to keep their imaginary friends until they reach adulthood? Agatha Christie wrote in her autobiography that she had imaginary friends even when she was already an adult.


About 65% of children have imaginary friends, claim American scientists from Manchester University.