Living with Children: Imaginary friends have value
Q uestion: Several months back, our just-turned 3-year-old son invented an imaginary friend whom he calls Larry. We're worried because he seems involved to the point of being obsessed with him.
He plays with Larry almost constantly, talking to him all the while. When we go somewhere, I have to pretend that Larry is coming along, too. I've drawn the line at setting a place at the table for him, explaining to our son that I feed Larry after our son has gone to bed.
When our son is with other children his age, he plays well, but has a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward play dates. I've heard that some kids this age have imaginary friends, but this seems a bit much. What do you think?
Answer: I think today's parents — moms, especially — worry too much about anything that seems to fall even a tad outside the boundaries of normal behavior.
That tendency is exacerbated by the fact that, as a culture, we seem to have forgotten that children can be odd at times, some more than others. Lots of odd in a child may be cause for concern, but one odd thing rarely merits more than a tolerant shrug.
I'm glad to hear that there are still kids who possess magnificent imaginations. Before television, video games and other electronic suppressants, imaginary friends were commonplace. Both of my children had imaginary playmates.
Eric had Jackson Jonesberry and Amy had Shinyarinka Sinum. No kidding. These playmates, who seemed quite real to the kids, occupied lots of their time, which was just fine with their mother and me.
Another factor I think has contributed to the demise of the imaginary playmate is the corresponding increase in parents who play with their children.
Some playful interaction between parent and child is fine, of course, but a line can be crossed at which point the child becomes dependent upon the parent for entertainment. When children were expected to entertain themselves for the most part, they were forced to be more creative and imaginative than today's kids seem, on the whole, to be.
Unobstructed by electronics or over-involved parents, the imaginary friend usually makes his or her appearance around a child's third birthday. These friends are quite real to the kids in question — call them “functional hallucinations” — evidenced by the fact that a child is apt to become indignant, even upset, if someone denies that his friend actually exists.
Imaginary friends are a positive influence in a number of important ways. Most obviously, they are both a product of and a stimulant to imagination.
They exercise and help to expand children's creative capacities. These fictional friends also help develop social skills, especially the ability to give-and-take. They promote self-reliance; specifically, the ability to self-occupy, which is obviously good for both parents and children.
Because children talk constantly to their imaginary friends, they strengthen language skills. In short, there's everything good and nothing bad about these hallucinatory companions. They usually disappear by the fifth birthday, but even the occasional appearance beyond that point is nothing to be concerned about.
My advice: Relax and enjoy the break.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parent questions at www.rosemond.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates lose on late Cardinals rally
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu made 1st-time captain; Roethlisberger named for offense
- Steelers formalize practice squad
- Detained Americans plead U.S. for assistance
- Unlike years past, strength of 2014 Steelers could be offense
- President’s Labor Day appearance heavy on politicking
- Steelers receiver Heyward-Bey looks to make most of chance
- Pressure on European Central Bank grows as economic recovery founders
- Democratic gubernatorial nominee in spotlight at Labor Day Parade
- Tuesday’s scouting report: Pirates at Cardinals
- Pirates notebook: Sanchez returns to Bucs in offensive slump