Recent research by Australian psychologist Dr. Kidd indicates that children between the ages of four and six quite commonly have imaginary friends. Dr. Kidd indicates that 65% of kids have had a least one imaginary friend in their lives. Dr. Kidd and his colleague Anna Roby investigated kids with and without imaginary friends. Kids deemed to have imaginary friends for the purpose of the research had to have maintained this friend for at least six months. The findings, that are to be published in the journal Developmental Science, reveal that kids with imaginary friends are better able to get their point across in conversations with adults. Dr. Kidd speculates that imaginary friends help improve kids communication skills as it provides them with an opportunity to create a dialogue. This entails having to know or surmise what another person is thinking.
Parents are often worried or concerned when they find that their child is having conversations with an imaginary person. There appears to be a stigma around this kind of activity as parents begin to wonder whether their child has mental health problems or is having trouble making friendships. Dr. Kidd’s research suggests that this is not true for kids in general and that, in fact, having an imaginary friend is an important part of early childhood development and communication. Research indicates that most kids with an imaginary friend are either only children or firstborn children. Thus, although having an imaginary friend may be out of necessity for these children, the consequences of this behavior appear to be positive rather than negative. Dr. Kidd believes that after age 6 most kids cease to have a need for imaginary friends as they typically join a large peer group at school.
Of course some children with imaginary friends raise legitimate concerns for parents. When imaginary friends beyond age 6 are a child’s primary source of “social” interaction, this could be a sign of emotional difficulty or turmoil. For example, there are kids who use imaginary friends as a way to deal with social anxiety since, in an imaginary interaction, they can control everything that happens. This kind of control reduces their anxiety or makes it more manageable. If having an imaginary friend is significantly interfering with your child’s day to day functioning, a consultation with a professional is recommended.
You can read an interview with Dr. Kidd here.
Do your kids have imaginary friends? Has it been a concern for you? Did you have imaginary friends as a child? Tell us your story!
The image shown above was produced by Sara Wilson and is titled “Pepper’s Imaginary Friend”. You can see more of her work at http://www.flyokayillustration.com.
Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor. And