8 Times You Should Pay Attention To Your Kid's Imaginary Friend

by Fiona Tapp

I had an imaginary friend when I was a little girl. Her name was Sarah Greene, and lived in the same street as me, in a house with a green door. I would talk to her and play with her and if I had been naughty I would totally throw her under the bus without any remorse whatsoever. So, my kid having an imaginary friend isn't"odd" to me, but I do know there times you should pay attention to your kid's imaginary friend; times where your kid's whimsical play habits could actually be telling you something (potentially serious and worthy of your undivided attention) is going on.

Psychologists agree imaginary friends offer no cause for concern, are created by about 40 percent of us and actually present a healthy outlet for children's emotions .Recently, my toddler has created a little friend all of his own. Somewhat worryingly it is a zombie, called "Zombie". Before we go anywhere or do anything, we are questioned on whether Zombie can come along too. I have to tuck Zombie into bed at night, change his pull-up when the situation calls for it and serve him snacks. I did, however, draw the line when I was asked to nurse Zombie; that level of method acting is too much for me so that's not happening. Nope.

So, while imaginary friends are a normal part of many children's development (including my own) they're not always a healthy "sign." Sometimes you really need to pay attention to your kid's imaginary friend, including the following situations:

When Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Has An Interesting Back Story

Inventing an imaginary friend is a great exercise in creativity and really allows your child to be theatrical. My imaginary friend had likes, dislikes and talents all of her own, I could describe her parents, her school and her pets. Take the time to ask your child questions about their chum and revel in how imaginative your little one is. Perhaps a future on the stage or screen beckons.

And, of course, if their imaginary buddy has a disturbing backstory (one riddled with abuse, for example) your child might be trying to tell you about a particular situation they have experienced themselves. Most children's creativity derives from experiences they have either been through or witnessed, so imagining their friend being hurt by an adult could be a red flag that your child or one of their friends is experiencing something similar.

When Your Kid Prefers Imaginary Friends To Real Friends

If your child has the option to play alone with their imaginary friend or with real flesh and blood contemporaries, and chooses to be alone every time, you may need to intervene.

As much as we all need some alone time now and again, if your child is always choosing to be alone they may be missing out on the nuances of friendship; nuances that include challenges and sacrifices that aid essential emotional development. Arrange a play date with a real friend but invite the imaginary friend to come along, too.

When Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Becomes A Scapegoat

Don't allow your child to get away with blaming naughtiness on their imaginary friend. While it may seem downright adorable initially, you are allowing them to take a pass on responsibility that could snowball into a serious problem with accepting fault or blame, in the future.

Being able to admit when you are wrong and accept punishment is an important lesson to learn.

When You Realize Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Is An Important Memory You All Should Cherish

One day your little one will be all grown up and covered in hair or acne and probably telling you they hate you because you won't let them stay out past curfew, so the memories of when they were innocent and full of joy will get you through the hell that is adolescence.

Imaginary fiends names, details and stories should be written down and treasured as adorable moments when your child was the cutest. Then, of course, they should be shamelessly recalled when they are all grown up. (Pro Tip: appropriate times to share said memories include prom date pick ups and wedding receptions. You're welcome.)

When Imaginary Play Becomes Violent Or Inappropriate

If your child is acting out violent fantasies or destructive tendencies through the guise of their invisible friend, you must not let the behavior go unchecked. It could be potentially dangerous and doesn't teach them the invaluable lessons of cause and effect and responsibility.

Part of our job as parents is to help our children understand that their actions have repercussions, and that when we have made a mistake we need to try to make amends.

When Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Is Mean

If your child's new friend is unkind or says mean things to them (or others), you will need to address the invisible bully. Although imaginary friends can help children work through a whole host of emotions and situations, they shouldn't be used as a pawn for your child to get away with saying hurtful comments. It's always a good idea to remind children that words can hurt and that they should try to focus on being kind.

And, of course, if your child's imaginary friend is being mean to them, this could be a sign of low self-worth or self-esteem, stemming from a potentially hurtful situation at school or during playtime. In other words, check in with your child and ask them why their imaginary friend is being mean to them, or others.

When Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Is Their Only Friend

If your child's social circle has dwindled to only include their invisible friend, you might start to be concerned. Making and keeping friends takes effort and is quite a skill. An imaginary friend may not teach your child to be cooperative, to share or to take turns.

Don't panic, of course, because some children may just prefer to play alone and social development is an ongoing process that spans the entirety of childhood.

When Your Kid's Imaginary Friend Is Really A Ghost

Not to freak you out but many paranormal experts claim children's imaginary friends are actually the recently departed. I am hoping my toddler isn't seeing real zombies in his room (because yikes), but if your child's imaginary friend looks just like your Aunt Bea who recently passed, perhaps there is something supernatural at play.

People used to think that children with pretend friends were at best lonely and at worst psychotic. Thankfully, researchers now say children who have imaginary friends are more creative, socially skilled and even more intelligent. So go ahead set that extra place at dinner because, in the end, your kid's imaginary friend is helping them make sense of the world, the people they share it with, and themselves.