TribLIVE

| Lifestyles

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Living with Children: Imaginary friends have value

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By John Rosemond
Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Question: 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.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback
  2. Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
  3. After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
  4. McCullers’, McLendon’s prowess in clogging trenches crucial to Steelers defense
  5. Reds solve Cole, stave off Pirates’ 9th-inning rally
  6. Starting 9: Examining Pirates’ deadline decisions
  7. Pirates notebook: New acquisition Happ more than happy to fill spot in rotation
  8. Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
  9. Roman Catholic Church in midst of culture clash over gays
  10. Steelers notebook: Injuries finally become issue at training camp
  11. Shell shovels millions into proposed Beaver County plant site