When I was little I had an imaginary friend. My moms knows his name and tells me stories about how I used to talk about him constantly.
Some parents worry about their children when they have imaginary friends. They believe their children should talk to real friends rather than invisible ones.
It seems, though, that they are worrying for no reason, as a study shows that imaginary friends can have a positive effect on children.
Such companions – whether a superhero or a fire-breathing dragon – are the sign of an imaginative child, and offer their creators a friend to confide in as well as a boost to their self-esteem.
Research at the Institute of Education in London found that made-up friends enhanced children’s creativity, making them more confident and articulate.
“Imaginative children will create imaginary friends,” said Karen Majors, an educational psychologist who carried out the research. “Companionship is a big part of it. They can be a way of boosting self-confidence.”
Parents should not worry even if their child creates a number of companions, according to Miss Majors, who says it’s a perfectly normal habit.
She added: “Parents sometimes think, ‘Is this healthy and how long should it go on for?’ But it is a normal phenomenon for normal children. And it’s very healthy.”
Girls tend to adopt younger companions, while boys tend to opt for older, more heroic characters. The study found that an only child or one with a large age gap from its siblings is most likely to create imaginary friends.
It is also common for such friends to appear when a brother or sister is born.
Victims of bullying may dream up companions for support and to help cope with the stress of their situation.
But in many cases, it is simply wish fulfilment for a child denied a much-wanted pet or other object of desire. “I interviewed one little girl who had a pony called Minty for several years,” said Miss Majors. “Of course Minty did not really exist.”
Earlier research by psychologist Anna Toby, who followed 20 children between the ages of four and eight with invisible pets and fabricated parents, found that an active imagination should be welcomed.
Her study found that “children who have imaginary companions have more advanced communication skills”.
In case anyone out there is psychoanalyzing me, my childhood was fine. I fall into the creative, articulate, confident category not the unfulfilled, needy child one. Just kidding. Okay I’m not.