Enjoy the magic of imaginary friends.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

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I’m on BBC Radio Newcastle today discussing children who have imaginary friends as Heathrow is set to become first ‘imaginary friend friendly’ airport –

See more at: http://mediacentre.heathrow.com/pressrelease/details/81/Retail-News-22/4791#sthash.TvSaZWfa.dpuf

Imaginary friends are a natural part of healthy child development. Children use their fantasy friends to practice verbal skills, boost their confidence and for role play. Kids with imaginary friends have been found to be more articulate, have improved creativity and higher self-esteem.

I remember being asked by Max’s mum and dad at Parents Evening, when I  was a Deputy Head about his Imaginary Friend and should they stop him doing it.

Many parents will be familiar with the sound of their child chatting to their imaginary friend. If they ask them who they are talking to, the response will usually be: “Nobody!” Studies researching the phenomena of childhood imaginary friends have found that if a parent asks too many questions about the invisible companion or, worse still, tries to interact with them, the friend disappears as miraculously as it arrived. So, when you hear your child chattering away into thin air, it is best not to intervene or to get involved. It is in the interest of your child’s healthy development to keep their make-believe friend part of their lives until they decide to stop.

Taking control
Imaginary friends give children the novel opportunity to tell someone else what to do! Their invisible friend behaves exactly the way they want them to. Your child can be the tallest, fastest or the leader or the one in charge – which is important to a child as they are always being told what to do so the role reversal is empowering for your child.

Wishful thinking
When it comes to an object of desire, some children fulfil their wish by make believe. Children quite often invent a family pet or can be heard talking to Peppa Pig or Cinderella in their bedroom.

Feeling More Confident
Made-up friends can be a useful for boosting your child’s confidence, which in turn can help a child stand up for themselves in different situations.

Being creative
Children with imaginary friends are much less likely to be bored. Make-believe friends demonstrate an ability to be creative & innovative.

Expressing their thoughts & feelings safely
Some children use their imaginary friend to tell you how they are feeling as they feel unable to say it themselves, such as: “Rooby The Rabbit doesn’t like it when you are cross, Mummy”.

It’s personal and private
An imaginary friend belongs to the person who invents it and no one else. It does not have to be shared with friends or family. So don’t take control of their friend.

Worried about real friends – you needn’t be
Fantasy friends are far from a poor replacement for real friends. Research has shown that children with imaginary friends are less inclined to be shy and are more popular.

Changes
Imaginary friends are particularly common among children with newborn siblings. Studies have shown that a child may be adjusting to a new brother or sister so that their make believe friend provides them with reassurance & comfort and can also help them to replace any  temporary lost parental attention during this time of change and transition.

Children also may have an imaginary friend during times of turmoil or change like a divorce or bereavement.

Practice makes perfect
A fantasy friend can give a child the perfect opportunity to practice something they want to say to someone in reality. It also gives them the chance to practice their verbal skills, which is why children with imaginary friends tend to be more articulate.

Coping with loss.
Children with absent family members or lost friends will often reinvent the person in invisible form as a healthy coping mechanism. It is quite common for a child to interact in their imagination with a close friend or relative who has recently moved away or talk to lost a grandparent.

Second helpings – The Oliver Sundrome
An invisible friend can be a sneaky means of getting an extra portion of food – “Belle would also like some strawberry ice cream with sprinkles Mum.” So be proud of their ingenuity !

Imaginary enemies
Also imaginary enemies have also been found to be a healthy coping mechanism. Children may invent someone to practice venting or arguing with and it can help in getting rid of their angry feelings. Research has also shown that children with imaginary enemies are more able to manage their anger and understand and see individual differences.

Naughty friends
Some particularly resourceful children find that an invisible friend can be a handy scapegoat – “It was Rosie who spilt the juice on your keyboard, it wasn’t me” they protest, pointing at thin air.

To your advantage – tidy bedroom, healthy eating !
Don’t try to manipulate your child’s imaginary friend but there’s no harm in turning his or her’s existence to your advantage. You could try: “Oh look, Mr Tumble has eaten all his veg” or “Why don’t you have a race with Rosie to see who can get dressed first?”

Relax it’s a magical time – Remember James Stewart in the film ‘Harvey?’

(Thanks to The Super Nanny Team)

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