You may have witnessed a child that seems to be talking to thin air, or had an imaginary friend yourself, but either way, I’m sure you’re aware of the popular fantasy of ‘imaginary friends’ amongst children. If you haven’t, here is how the concept of an imaginary friend works.
Most children will play pretend games, such as pretending to cook, pretending to live in a magical world or pretending to be a rock star or a race car driver. An imaginary friend is a form of a pretend game that extends so far to create another being that interacts with the child who has created it. An imaginary friend is not always human, for a child has no limits on how to make this being be. So the result is a collection of fantastical characters, ranging from a six headed dragon, a shape shifter, or a boy who can fly.
Contrary to the ancient beliefs where people believed children were acting out their past lives, or connecting with the supernatural, imaginary friends have proven to be natural and beneficial to the child’s psychological development. In addition to that, imaginary friends do not mean the child lacks attention or company, and so creates company to compensate for it. Imaginary friends also do not constitute the beginning of a mental disorder in which symptoms include hallucinations, such as Schizophrenia. So parents should have nothing to worry about when they’re child has a new friend who happens to be invisible.
A study on how imaginary friends benefit children was published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Child Psychology led by Durham University. The study’s procedure consisted of observing 148 five years olds playing a pretend game of going to the ice cream shop with their mothers. After this trip, the mother would sit down and begin to read, leaving the child to play by themselves. The children would then be observed on how often they talked to themselves. Out of the 148 five year olds, just under half of these children admitted to have imaginary friends. These children were observed to have double the chatter with themselves, than the ones who did not admit to having imaginary friends
Researchers have found that when children talk to themselves, as they grow up, these conversation skills become internalised thinking. This benefits the child in numerous cognitive tasks such as planning and problem solving. This study showed that imaginary friends would help the child talk to themselves more. At around the age of 7, these conversations will become private and internal thoughts, which gives them the ability to handle complex thinking better than children who do not have imaginary friends.
To conclude, studies have shown that a child interacting with an imaginary friend is nothing to worry about, and that it is beneficial to their cognitive development. Even though psychologists are digging deep into the impact an experience of an imaginary friend leaves, it still draws the question: Why do we even have imaginary friends in the first place?
Edited by Hamad Hussain