When called to account for being naughty, some children pass the blame on to an imaginary playmate. The existence of such a ‘‘friend’’ may come as a surprise to you, but be assured that it is quite normal for children between the ages of two and five to invent such companions. The child may imagine the playmate as another child, an adult, an animal or even favorite toy or blanket come to life. It is not clear why some children have these friends while others do not. In most causes, the child is aware at some level that the friend is only pretend. Unless your child becomes dependent on an imaginary companion to the exclusion of human relationships, do not worry. If it reaches that point, however, ask your pediatrician for advice.
Children assign many roles to imaginary playmates, and by paying close attention to the reported antics and pronouncements of such as character, you may gain some insight into your child’s state of mind. Sometime the playmate provides an emotional outlet, voicing fears or hostilities for the child. Other playmates do naughty things that rest parental limits, allowing the child to watch mother’s reaction from a safe distance. For the child who is trying to learn self-control, an imaginary playmate may serve as a jiminy cricket-like conscience. And in many cases the character is nothing more than a reliable companion.For you, however, an imaginary friend may be more of an exercise in patience. Usually the best strategy is to accept your child’s fantasy without encouraging it. Let her know that you realize the friend is make-believe and that you understand the fun of pretending. Punishing your child or ridiculing her fantasy may only encourage her to hide the companion. Imaginary friends are generally developed to fulfill a particular need. When that need is satisfied, the playmate will disappear. Like other expressions of the child’s imagination, a fantasy friend helps her explore new territory along the path to emotional maturity.