Should a parent discourage an eight-year-old from having an imaginary friend?
It's one of the listener questions Joanna Fortune - psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy - answered on Moncrieff this week.
My eight-year-old daughter used to have an imaginary friend when she was younger. This friend has recently come back into her life and indeed apparently into the house again.
I thought she had left this phase behind her. I think she is now too old to have an imaginary friend. How do I support her through this?
“She’s not too old - just to say that from the outset. 3-11 years old is typically the 'imaginary friends' window, although there’ll always be exceptions to that.
“I also think put this in the context of COVID and the changes that children have experienced - the loss of actual friends for a prolonged period of time.
“The return to school… are all of her peers there? Did some move? Are they in pods? Was there a mix-up in classes, like how schools will rejig classes? What level of change has she experienced, and how might this be a support for her?
“Imaginary friends emerge from imaginative play - they can be entirely imagined or based on a book or TV show character. They can be a constant, or they can come and go depending on what’s happening.
“What’s really interesting to think about is what an imaginary friend offers your child. Your child is in charge of this friend - that’s very appealing to children who are in charge of so little in their lives.
“This friend is special - it belongs solely to them. Only they know everything about the friend - that’s very empowering. This friend won’t ever judge your child, and will play and support them in any way your child’s imagination deems appropriate.
“What you can do is be curious - be interested and playful about this.
"You can put a boundary on it - suggest the friend stay at home if it’s a distraction. If the friend going to school is helpful, leave it alone.
“How your child is speaking about your imaginary friend can also tell you how much about how they’re feeling themselves. It can give you great insights into their inner world - their likes, their dislikes. I would always go down the route of curiosity, playfulness and interest.
“If you need to give out to the imaginary friend… you can say ‘I’m not interested in discussing this with your imaginary friend - I believe it was you, and want to talk to you about this’.
“But if it’s not something that’s not impeding on her life or not interrupting her behaviour… I would leave it alone.”