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Q: My three year old seems quite intelligent for her age and many have told me this is a sign of a gifted child, but it scares me. She has many imaginary friends. At first she had two (for about a year) but now the number has grown to many. These friends are quite real to her and she'll talk to them, argue with them, etc. Is this normal or should I fear some kind of multiple personality?
A: Imaginary friends at this age and stage of development are neither an indicator of giftedness nor the symptom of a multiple personality disorder. Imaginary friends are a very normal outgrowth of your daughter's vivid and rich fantasy life and imagination. As long as she is in a loving, stimulating, supportive home environment, there is no need to question the possibility that the imaginary friends have been created because she is suffering emotionally. You may want to question whether she is getting enough social contact with other kids her age. If she always insists on playing with her imaginary friends rather than playing with other kids, I would think that some concern might be in order.
Shaming her or blaming her for keeping these imaginary friends would be unhealthy and counterproductive. Parents may often learn a lot about what's going on in their kids' emotional lives by paying close attention to the discussions that their kids have with their imaginary friends.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.