Child Behavior: Are imaginary friends healthy behavior?

They are, and give parents insight into the child's feelings

Sometimes imaginary friends are fabricated because your child needs help dealing with a particular stressful issue. An imaginary friend can also give parents considerable insight into their child’s psychological wellness and possibly what they are struggling with or confused about.

A parent examining who these playmates are, how they are treated, how they treat the child and how they behave can reveal their child’s desires, wishes, anxieties and fears. As in other forms of fantasy play the child may be using the imaginary friend as a way to express and work through problematic emotions such as anger and fear, as well as developing life situations that will turn out the way he or she wants them to.

The most common themes of these imaginary dramas are feelings toward parents or siblings, or issues such as divorce or illness that the child is uncomfortable dealing with or feels powerless to control or cope with. The presence of an imaginary friend is an opportunity for a parent to recognize and then address their child’s needs. If your child tells you that his imaginary friend is sad, you might ask what you can do to help make the friend feel better, realizing that this might be the very problem your child is negotiating.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups.