Photo: slabby (flickr)
When you were young, did you have an imaginary friend?
A Popular Companion
Approximately thirty percent of American children between the ages of three and six develop an imaginary companion.
In many cases this fantasy friend is thought of as real by the child, so real in fact that a child will often accommodate for the companion’s physical presence, sleeping on only one side of the bed, for example, so the friend can have room to lie down.
Many children even believe they can see and hear their imaginary playmate while they converse with them.
Is This Healthy?
This childhood behavior is quite common, but how healthy is it? What have developmental psychologists discovered about imaginary friends?
A number of studies have examined this issue, and most have discovered very little difference between children with imaginary friends and children without them. For example, there is no relation at all between a child’s intelligence or creativity and whether they have an imaginary friend.
Imaginary Friends Are Beneficial
The studies that have found differences usually indicate that having an imaginary friend is perfectly healthy, and maybe even beneficial for a child.
Children with imaginary friends tend to show less fear and anxiety during play than those without. They also tend to be more cooperative during play, and even smile and laugh more often. One study even discovered that boys with imaginary friends tend to watch less television than those without.
It’s quite possible that children use imaginary playmates to experiment with relationships, to develop a repertoire of social skills which are then carried over to the real world. Seen in this way, an imaginary friend might be an important part of some children’s social development.