The advantages of imaginary friends

Most parents do not worry if their young child has an imaginary friend and even see advantages in such an invisible companion.

These are the findings being presented today at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology. The event is being held at the Grand Thistle Hotel, Bristol.

Dr Karen Majors Chartered Educational Psychologist, Barking and Dagenham Educational Psychology Service and Dr Ed Baines, Senior Lecturer in Psychology from the Institute of Education, collected 265 questionnaires from parents about their children’s imaginary friends.

The great majority of the parents (88 per cent) answered that they did not think that there were disadvantages for their child in having an imaginary friend. Parents saw the main reasons for having invisible friends as supporting fantasy play and as a companion to play and have fun with. Parents also gave numerous examples of how invisible friends helped their children process and cope with life events.

Younger children also used their interactions with invisible friends to test their parents’ reactions to behaviour that might be disapproved of, thus helping them learn to regulate their behaviour..

The results also showed that children were more likely to have same-sex imaginary friends, with boys particularly likely to have other boys as invisible companions.

Dr Karen Majors says: “Our results showed that imaginary friends provided an outlet for children’s imagination and story making, facilitating games, fun and companionship.  These versatile friends also enabled them to cope with new life events like moving house or going on holiday. Above all, these findings remind us just how imaginative children are, which is something we should be pleased about.”