Creative children have imaginary friends

Parents will breathe a sigh of relief following the news that being asked to set an extra place at the table for an invisible friend is not cause for concern. Research at London’s Institute of Education has found that children with imaginary friends are often more articulate, confident and creative.

In the past it was assumed that children invented companions because they had difficulty making friends, but this could not be further from the truth. Research reveals that children with imaginary friends are less inclined to be shy and have more advanced social skills. It is also thought that fantasy friends can indicate healthy coping mechanisms. There are stories of kids without living grandparents inventing a granny and children who are bullied inventing friends to back them up in the playground.

Imaginary friends come in all shapes and sizes. Some children simply have a phantom school friend in tow, whilst others have more elaborate mates such as an ice-cream eating dragon. A fantasy friend can also act as wish fulfilment – a superhero or princess they would like to be close to, or a much wanted pet that they are not allowed to have. Studies show that girls are more likely to conjure a younger companion, whilst boys more commonly create older, more heroic figures. A previous study from the University of Washington found that the world is far fuller of make-believe mates than first thought, with two thirds of children having imaginary friends.

Imaginary friends can be very precious to their creators and studies show that when a parent tries to get involved with their child’s conjured-up companion, they often disappear. So whilst you are laying a place at the table for Cinderella or an ice-cream eating dragon, take solace in the knowledge that, rather than it being an indication of eccentricity, your child is developing healthily – even if the real reason for the fantasy friend is an attempt at hustling an extra portion of ice cream.

Related links

The magic of imaginary friends: find out why make-believe mates are good for your child's development.

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Imaginary friends - visit The V&A Museum of Childhood, read about other children's imaginary friends, and upload your child's story too.

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