During your child's toddler and preschool years, he or she could develop an imaginary friend. For some parents, the idea can be confusing and it might seem like a cause for concern. If your child has a new friend that only he or she can see, here are some tips for handling the situation.
Do Not Panic
Even though it might seem strange, your child's need for an imaginary friend is not as unusual as it seems. An imaginary friend has several important benefits, including serving as a confidant for your child. The friend also is a companion and can give you and your partner an opportunity to check out your child's emotional and social development.
As your child interacts with his or her friend, you might notice your child giving the friend advice on a wide range of subjects, including being nice. Appropriate advice from your child to the friend can help to reassure you that your child is learning the values and skills that you and your partner are trying to instill in him or her.
Parent the Imaginary Friend
It is important that you respect and parent the imaginary friend. Although it might seem silly to you, your child sees the imaginary friend as any other friend. This is also a great opportunity for you to teach your child about the importance of respecting others.
For instance, acknowledge the friend when your child enters the room. You also can use the friend to teach your child lessons. For instance, if your child blames a dirty room on the friend, you can explain that it is important to take responsibility for his or her own actions.Tell the imaginary friend and your child how important it is to clean up the room and ask your child to help with the project.
Recognize When to Get Help
Imaginary friends are nice companions, but as your child ages, he or she should start to develop relationships with other children. If your child is using his or her friend to avoid creating relationships, it might be time to talk to your pediatrician. Ideally, your child will leave the friend behind once he or she is out of the toddler and preschool phase. If not, it is possible that your child is hiding other emotions, such as anxiety, behind the friend.
You should also talk to your pediatrician if your child is blaming harmful or destructive behavior on the friend. The pediatrician can recommend a mental health professional, if necessary.
Imaginary friends are usually not a cause for concern. However, if you are concerned, schedule an appointment with your child's pediatrician. Consider talking with a professional from an establishment such as Kitsap Children's Clinic LLP.