Imaginary friends can help children use social skills

CHILD LIFE

October 16, 1994|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: My 2 1/2 -year-old has recently begun having imaginary friends. I don't think that she believes they are real, but she does rTC constantly play with them. Should we play along or discourage it?

-- D.B., Miami, Fla.

A: Imaginary friends are always ready to play. If something goes wrong, they're happy to take the blame. They don't snatch toys, and they don't tell secrets. Who wouldn't welcome one?

Children have been conjuring up imaginary friends for generations, and parents who called Child Life say it's nothing to worry about.

"Imaginary friends are healthy at this stage," says Dorinda Schultz of Baltimore. "This is your child's way of practicing and role playing her new social skills that she is developing."

Imaginary friends usually come on the scene about the time preschoolers are experimenting with a newly found level of creativity, says Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., associate director Nova University's Family Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I think imaginary friends are wonderful and important," she says. "If you are accepting of the imaginary friend, you will find out how your child feels about a lot of things."

Imaginary friends also give children a way to exert control as well as work through fears and relieve boredom, Ms. Leiderman says.

Most imaginary friends disappear on their own as soon as the child gets more involved with real-life playmates -- at about age 4, Ms. Leiderman says.

If the child is still very involved in the fantasy at age 6, parents should start to ask questions.

"You'd want to know if they are getting enough peer interaction," Ms. Leiderman says. "Is their communication on target? Is there an underlying problem that the child feels uncomfortable talking about?"

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.

CAN YOU HELP?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

*Won't use potty: "My daughter, who is 3 1/2 , will not have a bowel movement in the potty," says R. Clark of Virginia Beach, Va. "She will cross her legs and run upstairs or to her room to have a b.m. Otherwise, she was completely potty trained six months ago." Jill Beyer of Breckenridge, Colo., is having the same trouble with her 3 1/2 -year-old son. Has anyone else lived through this?

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