Categorized | Parenting, Toddler Behaviour

Is It Normal For Your Toddler To Have An Imaginary Friend?

According to researchers, imaginative play is common for toddlers between the ages of 3 and 5, a time when they are just beginning to form their own personalities. So is your toddler’s imaginary friend a cause of concern? Read here to find out.

The Reason Behind It

Children develop imaginary friends to help cope with change or transition (e.g. welcoming a new sibling, starting school or death of a loved one). It is a form of self-expression, it gives them a sense of control over their environment and helps them comfortably express negative emotions.

The Positive Side of An Imaginary Friend

Imaginary friends serve several imperative roles. Some of these functions are:

  • A Great Playmate – an imaginary friend can be a wonderful buddy for pretend play which is very essential in honing a toddler’s imagination
  • Act As A Confidant – an imaginary friend is a good secret keeper during times when children have issues that are too confidential to share with parents
  • Helps Differentiate Good From Bad – everyone knows children are very mischievous, but having an imaginary friend helps them distinguish right from wrong. For example, when he insists that his friend ate the cookies, not him, he is able to recognize what is right from wrong but is not quite prepared to own up to the responsibility of his action, thus, blaming the imaginary friend.
  • Helps You Understand Your Toddler’s Emotions – hearing your toddler give reassurance to his imaginary friend gives you a glimpse of what your little one is truly feeling about a certain situation (going to the doctor, getting a shot, transferring to a new home, transitioning from crib to bed, etc.)

How You Can Help

Do not reprimand or make your toddler feel embarrassed about his imaginary friend. It is okay to play along as long as you keep the following rules in mind:

Respect The Friend

Acknowledge his imaginary friend as a living being. This means greeting him, saying sorry when you sit on him and listening to your toddler talk about his friend’s likes, dislikes and other characteristics.

Pretend Play Together

Take advantage of this opportunity and encourage your toddler to make up stories, but do not take over. Allow him to explore his ideas and emotions.

Increase Social Interaction

Never let the imaginary friend be your toddler’s only companion. Toddlers need to mingle with their peers as much as they can. Encourage him to go out. Organize a play date. Enroll him in a class he is interested in. If he prefers playing with his imaginary friend than with his “real-life friends” or has no other friends, consult with a professional.

Do Not Let The “Friend” Take Full Responsibility of Your Toddler’s Actions

Allowing your toddler to blame his imaginary friend each time he misbehaves is not good as he will not learn how to acknowledge his own mistakes. Instead, use it as a teaching opportunity. For instance, if his friend spilled juice, you can say “That is okay, I am not angry. But let us help your friend clean up the mess.”

Having an imaginary friend is normal so do not make a big deal out of it. As long as you are there to guide him, everything will be fine. He will outgrow it sooner or later.

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November 2017
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