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Child's Imaginary Friends - Developmental Perspective


Malhar’s imaginary friends and how they help him to manage his emotions

Malhar’s parents mentioned an incident, which, if looked into carefully, opens up a Pandora’s Box in Child Behaviour.

One weekend they were enjoying a classical piano concert with a friend at home with Malhar playing nearby. After a while he said, “I don’t like this tan tan music, let us do something else.” Malhar’s father told him that only he out of the four people in the room did not want to listen to the music while the other three were enjoying it. To which Malhar at once replied, “Gondrela. Mondrela, Dr RajKumar and, Vikram also don’t want to listen so five of us don’t want this tan tan music.”

Malhar’s father did not know what to do for a while. But sensible parents that they are, he said, “In which case we have to do other things as majority don’t want this”

Who are these Monderla, Gondela and others? Well, you guessed it right. They are Malhar’s imaginary friends.

Did Malhar’s parents do the right thing by respecting his wishes? Let’s see.

Malhar is four years old and Gondrella, Mondrella and others are all his imaginary friends. The very fact that Malhar came up with four names shows his ability to think and understand the concept of majority, and how he effectively and confidently articulated his thoughts. 

His wonderful parents also showed how to keep up their words and also to respect the child’s thoughts. This is also because they have developed a good bonding with their son and have allowed Malhar to express his views. Malhar also knows that with his parents he will get justice if he deserved it.

Now, let us understand something about imaginary friends and what role do these friends play in the life of a child?

 Many children, from age of four to eight years, have imaginary friends. This game they play is a natural part of healthy child development. Children use their fantasy friends to practise verbal skills, boost their confidence and for role play. They give children the refreshing opportunity to tell someone else what to do. Their invisible friend behaves exactly the way they want them to so that this helps in them taking control of the situation

Many children fulfil their desires, not met by elders, through these friends. Like Rahul’s  Spiderman friend who lives in Bingo castle far away where only he and his friends can play and no one else can come there.

Make-believe mates help children to overcome their boredom and helps the child to be creative with spare time.

Imaginary friends can help in managing sibling rivalry. It is believed that this companion provides comfort and replaces the lost parental attention.

Some children use their imaginary friends to convey a message they are otherwise not able to express, like, “Binku , Pinky don’t like it when you hit me Pappa.”

Research has shown that kids with imaginary friends have better language development, richer vocabulary, and better social skills and get along better with classmates. The reason for this is that kids who create a playmate get a chance to practise both sides of the conversation. They try on different roles, think in an abstract manner and conjure up original ideas.

Children use their fantasy friends to practise verbal skills, boost their confidence and for role play. This makes them, more articulate, have good creativity and higher self esteem.

So you see that imaginary friends are a natural part of a healthy child development.

Some parents who have not understood that imaginary friends are a part of child development tend to put them off by saying that no such friends exist.

I recollect a parent telling me that every time the child wanted an extra piece of cake or an ice-cream he would say his Snuffy must have one too. This parent would tell the boy that no such friend exists and that he was lying. This is a very sad situation. Even if the parents did not want to give an extra piece, they could have said, “Now share your goodie with your friend, the next time I will get an extra one for Snuffy.”

My suggestion is that even if you don’t want to encourage this, at least give space to your children in their imaginary world to deal with their problems themselves.

So when you hear your child chattering away to no one, it is best not to intervene.