Did you know that around 65% children from pre-school to age 7 have created an imaginary friend at one time or another. Most imaginary friends are moved on after about 6 months and the majority of children have lost them by the time they start school. Imaginary friends are perhaps unsurprisingly most common amongst eldest and only children.
Imaginary friends can take many forms. Generally speaking however imaginary friends are either objects such as dolls or teddy bears or an invisible imaginary person. A study at the University of Oregon found that where children have an imaginary friend that is personified as a doll or teddy they tend to have a parent like relationship whereas if the imaginary friend is invisible, the relationship is more egalitarian. The study also found that boys tended to only create male imaginary friends where as girls would create both male and female companions.
It can be common for parents to be concerned about the creation of an imaginary friend. After all adults don’t have them! And it is perhaps this lack of understanding from adults that means parental concern grows. Well as you have already read above, first of all it is very normal.
Unstructured time alone is a big factor in children creating imaginary friends. This is why it is most common for only children to engage in this sort of activity. The obvious solution is that the child needs to spend more time in the company of other children. Well there can be no doubt that children interacting with other children is a good thing as it allows them to develop their social interaction skills. But an imaginary friend is good practise for children. Research by Yale University found that children with imaginary friends have richer vocabularies and get along better with their classmates. Therefore it is also unsurprising that they are better able to show empathy as they find it easier to imagine what others are thinking.
Children can create imaginary friends for a variety of reasons. The most basic reason is simply they find it fun. Subconsciously children are also creating them to practice fledgling social skills. At times a child may create an imaginary friend to provide reassurance at times of stress or change. If a child feels powerless, they may create someone simply to give them control and have someone to boss around.
The study from the University of Oregon discovered that 99% percent of children are aware that their friend is imaginary and not real. Touchingly only one child remained adamant that their friend was real.
An imaginary friend can become a valued part of any family. Parents should relax and enjoy it, and take the opportunity to ask questions about the friend as it will undoubtedly present them with unprecedented access to their child’s inner most thoughts and feelings. Parents just need to be careful that they do not allow the imaginary friend to take over family life, or their child misses real experience because they are too engaged with with their imaginary friend. Most of all parents must make sure that their child is developing relationships with real friends.
Most children will lose their imaginary friends as they start school. These sort of relationships are not socially acceptable and so the child will make the decision to move on themselves. If a child however, is withdrawing to spend time with their imaginary friend at the expense of real life parents should consider consulting a professional to determine if the child has any underlying fears, concerns or anxieties.
YogaBugs actively encourages imagination. At a YogaBugs class children do not simply do yoga poses they imagine themselves as lions or pirates. Imagination is a truly wonderful thing and every effort should be made to encourage it. At YogaBugs even imaginary friends are welcome.