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Six-Year-Old Still Has Imaginary Friends
Q: My six-year-old son has had an imaginary friend, Danny, since he was two. I have never had a problem with my son having this friend; he never tries to blame his mistakes on him. Over the past year he's created another friend, Russie, and they all play together. My son loves playing with real children, but his imaginary friends are always around when he's at home.
My friends and family, however, are pressuring me to "get rid of" Danny because they feel my son is too old for this. Is my son's behavior normal, or should I be concerned?
A: Having imaginary friends is perfectly normal for kids and there is no truth to the belief that kids who have imaginary friends are emotionally disturbed, lack the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, or are suffering from a personality disorder. Your son's having an imaginary friend has not prevented his healthy social development or his healthy functioning in life. He continues to play happily with other children and has not withdrawn from life into a world of fantasy.
There are many reasons why children have imaginary friends. Beyond the obvious desire for companionship, kids may consciously and unconsciously use imaginary friends to deal with their emotions and to work through issues they are confronting. Despite parents worrying that it's wrong to encourage kids' to believe in a person that isn't real, all research in this area points to kids benefitting in their intellectual, social, emotional, and creative development as a result of their having had imaginary friends.
Be a part of this relationship with his imaginary friend as much as he wants you to, letting him know that you know this friend is pretend but not shaming him for having this relationship. As kids get older, they may not talk openly about their imaginary friends anymore, but that doesn't mean they don't still secretly have them. Imaginary friends disappear when they are no longer needed.
Let your friends and family know that you have been assured that these friends are perfectly normal and that they are part of your son's healthy imagination and overall development. Ask them not to make fun of your son because of his imaginary friends. They don't have to play along all the time, but they shouldn't attempt to embarrass him, as this would be unnecessarily hurtful.
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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.