When our firstborn son, Rob, was young, he had three imaginary playmates: Ready, Roddy and Rudy. Since he had no siblings to interact with, Rob used his growing imagination to create these pretend friends. He spent many hours telling me fascinating stories about them.
Rob would let me know when Roddy was hungry but was quick to add that neither he nor Roddy liked the meatloaf I'd fixed for dinner. He told me how Rudy was a bad friend for scattering toys all around the bedroom and how Rudy (not Rob) should have a time-out. When it was naptime, I'd say, "Are you ready for a nap?" Rob's reply? "No, Mommy. I'm not Ready. Ready's hiding in the garage."
Of course, his creativity was in full bloom at this developmental stage. Preschoolers are blossoming in many ways?they're learning to run, climb, jump, hop, open, close, talk and make friends?even pretend friends. They also like to tell stories, often about their imaginary playmates. It's their way of sharing their thoughts with you.
It's encouraging to know that imaginary playmates actually help children develop some necessary skills. Through his interaction with his make-believe friends, your child is practicing socialization. As your preschooler fantasizes with her make-believe friends, she learns the art of storytelling. When she relates these stories aloud, she broadens her existing vocabulary. This creative play also boosts a child's self-confidence, helping to enhance his sense of identity as he makes new discoveries about himself.
Through an imaginary friend, a young child learns to express her likes and dislikes. She can work through her problems and fears. She can find acceptable means by which to express feelings such as anger, compassion, sadness and empathy.
Imaginary friends can also be a way for you to teach your child important Christian values. If your child often blames his imaginary friend for broken toys or the mess in his room, talk about the importance of telling the truth and asking God to forgive us when we do something wrong. You can even use your child's attachment to her imaginary friend as a stepping stone to talking about Jesus, a real friend who is with us forever.
If your son or daughter has an imaginary friend, don't worry! Instead, know that this is a normal part of child development. Allow ample free time each day to encourage your child's growing sense of discovery as he plays with his imaginary friend and begins to understand more about living in God's world.
?Debra Fulghum Bruce
Health writer, mother of three
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