The goal of all parents is to have their children grow up healthy, both inside and out. Part of that means becoming a social being, someone capable of developing and maintaining healthy relationships with other people.
So it’s understandable then, that a child with an imaginary friend has traditionally given parents a cause for concern. After all, it involves your child talking to themselves, and maybe even hearing someone talk back, two symptoms typically associated with paranoid schizophrenia.
But a new piece from Science Friday called “The Truth About Imaginary Best Friends” argues that fictitious BFFs may actually be good for a child’s development. According to developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor, who “explores the relationship between imaginary companions and children’s social and cognitive development into adulthood,” most kids understand that their imaginary friends are in fact, make believe. “Many children at some point want to make sure you’re not confused,” says Taylor of her research interviews with children. “They’ll say, ‘You know it’s just a pretend little girl?’”
Throughout her research, Taylor has determined that imaginary friends are a way for children to express their creativity and develop their imaginations. In a recent study, 17 percent of the 200 children Taylor looked at had imaginary best friends, while other studies have shown that up to two-thirds of children have them. Taylor found that these children tend to be more sociable and less shy than other children. One of her colleagues, meanwhile, Tracey Gleason of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, stresses the importance of having an imagination even when you’re an adult. "Imagination is not just a frivolous thing you outgrow,” she says.
So the next time you see your child having a major hang session with their imaginary best friend, don't freak out. Instead, tap into your own imagination and say hello!
Become a better parent with a copy of The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, and let us know if you think it's normal for a child to have an imaginary best friend.