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Living With Your Child's Imaginary Friend

Living With Your Child

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Updated on Mar 5, 2009

Imagine a friend who goes everywhere you want to go, does everything you want to do, and always takes your side. Imagine a friend who calms you when you're fearful and shelters you from the storm. Imagine a friend who is eight feet tall, sports hot pink Pippi Longstocking-braids, and, of course, can fly. That would be Sabono, your 4-year-old daughter's imaginary buddy. 

Dr. Anita Gurian, a child psychiatrist at the NYU School of Medicine, reports that almost 65 percent of young children will conjure up an invisible ally at some point in their lives. Girls are more likely than boys to participate in this type of play. As a parent, you're likely to question if allowing Sabono to take up residence in your home is a good thing. According to the latest findings from the NYU Child Study Center, the answer is a resounding "Yes!" 

Experts agree that an imaginary friend usually enters the picture when a child is beginning to form his or her own identity, usually between the ages of 3-5. Make-believe is also a tool for testing the boundaries between fantasy and reality. While most children bid a fond farewell to an imaginary friend by the first day of kindergarten, research shows that one-third of these creative tykes will hang on to their pals until age 7. So relax and accept your invisible guest. While you may be tested at times, rest assured one day soon Sabono will be nothing more than an enchanting pink-haired flying memory. Below are five suggestions to help you cope: 

Set limits: Don't discourage or invalidate your child, but do stay in charge. Sabono may be allowed to stay up past midnight or eat a dozen donuts in one sitting, but your daughter must continue to follow your rules, not Sabono's.

Introduce your child's imaginary friend to other family members: Siblings may try to use the situation to ridicule and tease. Be sure everyone understands that having an imaginary friend is a normal part of growing up.

Pay attention to your child's communication with her imaginary friend: If your child's relationship with her imaginary friend becomes unreasonable or overly intense, it may be sending a signal that underlying concerns, fears, or anxieties are present and need to be addressed.

Understand imaginary play fosters learning: As irritating as she may sometimes be, Sabono is doing a lot to teach your daughter how to interact with the world around her. Relating to an imaginary friend is a healthy way to process complex information.

Don't become too involved: Setting a place at the dinner table for Sabono is reasonable. But if your daughter attempts to pull you into the fantasy too often, or if her play begins to significantly disrupt the family, it is okay to gently remind her that Sabono is a make-believe friend.

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