By Mila Caraballo, DNP
Reliant Medical Group Pediatrics
Every parent knows that children often have vivid imaginations. But what if that imagination includes a friend that exists only in your child’s mind – is that something to be worried about?
Fortunately, the answer is no, imaginary friendships are considered a normal part of childhood and social development. For some children, imaginary friends are just a fun way to play. For others, they can be an outlet to help children speak their minds or better express their feelings.
Having an imaginary friend doesn’t mean that your child is anti-social, overly shy, or has low self-esteem. Psychologists and other experts believe that children often use their imaginary friendships to help try out their social skills, learn to play in a group, and enhance communication strategies. It is believed that imaginary friends can help children better understand the perspective of others, benefitting their social development.
Here’s some things to keep in mind about children and imaginary friends:
- It’s perfectly normal to have an imaginary friend, approximately half of children will have one during their childhood
- Children often have imaginary friends up until about age 12
- Having an imaginary friend is not a sign of stress or loneliness. Think of it as a normal part of childhood.
- It’s fine to “play along” when your child is talking about their imaginary friend. You can treat them like any other friend of your child.
You should only be concerned about your child’s imaginary friend if some issues occur, such as:
- Your child is afraid of their imaginary friend
- Their imaginary friend is telling them to do unsafe things
- Your child still has their imaginary friend after age 12
- Your child’s imaginary friend is their only friend
- There is a major change in your child’s attitude or behavior
If your child has an imaginary friend, try to enjoy this special time of their development, as it will go by quicker than you think. However, be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns about their physical or mental health – whether they have an imaginary friend or not.
About Mila Caraballo, DNP
A graduate of Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing and Rush University, Mila started her career as a pediatric nurse and later worked as a nursing supervisor and a clinic manager at Reliant. During this time, she decided to go back to school and received her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in pediatric primary care. “Nursing is my calling and I truly enjoy caring for patients and families,” she explains. “As I gained more experience...View profile View posts by this doctor