I don’t have kids (shocker). But I do have nieces and nephews, and the concept of having imaginary friends is something I’ve always been really interested in.
The problem is that when I am interested in something, I think I know a bunch of things about it, but that’s usually not the case. Luckily, I host a Podcast about Mental Health, so I was able to interview someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.
I talked to Ken Blanchard, a Licensed Professional Counselor based in Forest, Virginia. He was gracious enough to deal with my odd rambling and nonsensical questions. I’ll even go far enough to say that there is a ton of valuable information presented.
Click here to listen to the show, or keep reading for the cliff notes. You can also download/subscribe on iTunes by searching “Thriveworks Podcast.”
The interview below is paraphrased and much shorter than the actual conversation. Questions are skipped. Hearts are broken. Words are spoken.
Jon: Do you believe it’s healthy for a child to have an imaginary friend?
Ken: Absolutely, I believe it’s health. In the past, there was a negative outlook on it and people thought children would have a tough time knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. Research has proven otherwise.
Jon: How prevalent is this?
Ken: About 50%. Mostly preschool aged kids, but it’s not uncommon for children to have imaginary friends until they’re 9.
Ken. Yup. (paraphrase) It helps kids cope with struggles that they’re going through.
Jon: Is it a healthy coping mechanism?
Ken: Yes, and it’s extremely beneficial. It’s a sign of imagination, creativity and advanced communication. It helps prepare them for real friendships down the road, and the general rule of thumb is that the imaginary friend will fade away as the child starts gaining real friends. I encourage parents not to freak out or be alarmed that the child has an imaginary friend. Don’t shame the child.
Jon: What does your imaginary friend say about you?
Ken: If the child has an imaginary friend through a stuffed animal, then that says the child is being parental toward their friend. Having an imaginary friend who is invisible means that the child likes friends being on equal footing. You can really learn a lot about your child through how they interact with the friend. If your child is afraid of the dark, for example, that tells you that they are afraid of the dark.
Also, it gives the child power, which they’re not used to having. As a parent, you can join in the play a little bit, but let them call the shots. Ask questions and you’ll learn more about the child.
Jon: Weird anecdote.
Jon: So children use imaginary friends to practice having real friends? Like role-playing?
Jon: What if they use the imaginary friend to shift blame of something they’ve done? I’m sure I’ve done that. If the parent has been playing along…
Ken: It’s important for the parent to stay in the reality of it. You still hold the child accountable by saying “you were in it together.” Or you can just ignore the friend.
Jon: Does that work because the child knows the imaginary friend isn’t real?
Ken: Yes, and very few children actually believe the imaginary friend is real. They know it’s pretend for the most part.
Jon: So unless this is a kid in a horror movie, we’re good.
Ken: No response.
Well, that’s the short version of the interview. I promise that the audio is far more professional, and I obviously omitted plenty. So, what do you think? Be sure to voice your opinion in the comments, whether you agree with Ken or not!
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