Is It OK for Kids to Have An Imaginary Friend?
The simple answer is yes. It's completely normal and actually quite healthy. Years ago it was thought that a child with an imaginary friend might be in emotional distress, terribly lonely, or end up being socially inept if they made up a friend to help them through the day. Many studies today have dispelled this thinking and found quite the opposite. Although your child's imaginary friend may help stave off loneliness, it is not an emotional problem. It's a sign that their prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe is beginning to grow. These are the parts of the brain used for imagination and creativity among other things.
So what does all that mean? It means that there is no reason to be concerned when all of a sudden your toddler is introducing you to their new friend or blaming them for spilling milk all over the floor.
Whether they are named Susie or Gobbledeegoop, your child's imaginary friend is helping your child in many ways. Now that your toddler is more mobile and able to explore new and interesting things, an imaginary friend can help them feel that they aren't traversing that scary world alone.
Verbal skills, using complex sentences, and a larger vocabulary are expanded while your toddler talks to their friend. If you think about it, having a two-sided conversation with yourself at that age surely is stretching those brain muscles.
Having an imaginary friend gives a child the chance to be the boss. They can tell someone else what to do for a change. While playing they learn self-esteem and that it's okay to feel good about a job well done, because they can always be the winner.
They will learn a great coping skill. For instance, that it's okay to be away from their parents for short periods of time, since their friend will be with them. They also can discuss things that bother them with someone who understands. This will carry over as they grow and turns into self talk as a way to understand and solve problems.
Kids with imaginary friends have been found to be more outgoing and less likely to be shy. They are more willing to compromise and be empathetic to others. They are more creative and more able to come up with original ideas and think abstractly. This is not to say that you should suggest an imaginary friend to your toddler, it should come from them.
It's okay to interact with the imaginary friend if your child initiates it. Remember, this is something that is completely their own and if you ask too many questions or try to take over, your child could become very upset and their friend may disappear before your child is ready.
You'll probably have to tell your child that when Susie or Gobbledeegoop does something bad, they will have to deal with the consequences, because they are in charge of their friend.