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Blaming an Imaginary Friend
Q: My three-year-old daughter has developed an imaginary friend named Honey. At first we encouraged this. However, I'm starting to be concerned because whenever my daughter has done something wrong, she claims that "Honey" did it. Should I be worried or should I just to continue to encourage Honey's existence, good or bad?
A: This is an interesting and fairly common issue for children at this age. It is completely normal for children from the ages of approximately three to six to invent an imaginary friend. It is actually an important developmental task for them to go through. Often they pretend they are talking with their friend, that the friend is playing a game with them, or they request that the parent ask a question to the imaginary friend. All of this is perfectly normal. Having an imaginary friend may allow a child to express emotions that she otherwise might feel uncomfortable expressing.
It is also very common for children to blame things on their imaginary friend. It allows them to separate the bad behavior from themselves; in some ways it is a way for them to show that they are sorry by saying that they would never do something like that and their imaginary friend must have done it. The child is acknowledging that it was the wrong thing to do. It would be interesting to ask your daughter if she thinks Honey should go into "time out" as her punishment. Maybe she can keep Honey company in time out!
I don't think you need to encourage Honey's existence but I also don't think you should discourage it. You will likely find that as your daughter gets a little older, she will drop this imaginary friend as well as start to take a little more responsibility for her actions.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.