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Imaginary Friends are Perfectly Safe and Even Beneficial for Kids

By the age of seven, about two-thirds of all children have played with one or more imaginary friends, and about a third still have such friends by the age of seven. According to a new joint University of Oregon and Washington University study, not only is that normal but the imaginary friends can be quite beneficial to the kids.

The imaginary companions can offer bona fide companionship, fun and even help children cope with challenging experiences and resolve conflicts. When they are afraid of the dark, for example, they may "talk it through" with their imaginary friend.

The idea that pretend companions indicate underdeveloped maturity in kids who were starting school was largely initiated by Sigmund Freud and popularized by psychologist Jean Piaget back in the 1960s. But whether they are invisible humans (57%), animals (41%), or even dolls like Barbie, the imaginary friends are typically not a cause for any concern.

Children's imaginary friends, such as
this actual 7-inch elephant imagined
by one youngster, may help them
cope with conflicts and challenges.

One exception is if a child states that the imaginary companion is telling him or her to do something they don't want to do, or controlling them in some manner. In these kinds of cases it is recommended to seek psychological help.

Various parenting experts have even suggested that listening in on children's conversations with their pretend friends in a non-intrusive way can help parents achieve some valuable insights. For example, they may learn of fears or interests of children they were not previously aware of.

27% of children in the recent study described imaginary companions their parents were not even knowledgeable about. Some of the more unusual imaginary friends cited included a 7-inch-tall elephant and a 100-year-old GI Joe doll ... who may be quite wise, come to think of it.


UW News

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