Imaginary friends of our children: is it worth it to panic
“Abraham Lincoln is my grandfather,” the five-year-old tells me in between. “What?” I ask again, prudently hiding in silence. “Well, yes,” the child continues, almost crying, “I was so upset when he was shot in the theater.”
So, with an example from her own life, a research article by Jessica Köhler begins, devoted to the topic of imaginary friends and how to relate to the child’s overly stormy fantasy. “This is one of the many examples of our son’s imaginary connections. In addition to historical figures, he prefers book heroes, movie actors, or completely invented characters – all of them often occupy a large place in his daily games. Stories with imaginary friends are multifaceted, the emotional connection is strong. Isn’t it time for us to worry? ”
Psychology of Invented Friends
In childhood, they appear quite often. About two-thirds of children between the ages of three and eight come up with imaginary friends who sometimes “linger” until adolescence. Most likely, girls are more prone to this, and the images of invented companions differ among children of different sexes.
Girls are more likely to take up a teaching position in such relationships, nursing babies – animals or babies. Boys, in turn, create strong and knowledgeable “buddies”, more powerful than themselves. Relations with such friends can be hierarchical or equal.
According to the study, invented companions usually fall into one of two categories: invisible creatures or personified objects. Most children are well aware that their friends do not exist in reality, and even point this out to adults, much to their relief. Behind a fictional companion lies the cosmos created by the child’s imagination, an amazing world of fantasy.
Where do they come from?
Basically, such creatures are invented just for fun. Quite often, imaginative children are perfectly socialized and love everything related to fantasy. These personality traits combine and provoke the child to create fictional companions.
A study by Stephanie Carson suggested that children endow them with functionality to satisfy three psychological needs based on the theory of self-determination.
1. The need for competence
In relationships with imaginary friends, children often set themselves the role of a leader teaching a less competent “comrade”.
2. Need for a relationship
Relations with them are sometimes no less strong than with real friends.
3. The need for autonomy
Sometimes invented companions help children to manipulate the situation in order to gain control over what is happening.
Back in 1945, Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote that parents should worry if a child over four still has imaginary friends. In his opinion, their appearance testified to the inability or lack of something in the child in real life.
Jean Piaget, one of the most famous psychologists of the XX century, who studied the development of the child, in 1962 stated that the presence of invented friends could be a sign of a violation of the development of the child.
Children have their own enchanted world, which they do not always want to discover.
However, the scientific evidence of the past three decades does not support the views of Dr. Spock and Piaget. Recent studies suggest that the presence of imaginary friends is associated with positive psychological indicators in childhood and later in life.
Positive psychological indicators
The study examined the relationship of fantasies about a fictional friend and positive psychological indicators. It turned out that children who have invented companions also had a wider vocabulary and better speech skills. They turned out to be less shy and more socially oriented and generally had a high level of creativity.
Scientists saw the relationship between the child’s rich imagination and the best results when passing the test for creativity. Interestingly, these children were more inventive than their peers in inventing new options for using various objects. They are less limited by functional standards.
Thus, the data suggest that visionaries can grow up in creative adults, whose indicators of developed imagination will be higher than those of the rest.
Some psychologists still doubt the mandatory existence of a relationship between the appearance of imaginary friends in a child and his excellent intellectual indicators. At the same time, there is already a theory supporting the idea that imagination occurs in children with good cognitive abilities.
The theory of positive disintegration of Kazimierz Dombrowski includes an important point regarding the concept of over-excitability, that is, increased mental excitability in gifted children. The description of this phenomenon in many respects coincides with the features of those who have invented friends.
Here is a list of the characteristics of the over-excitability of imagination in children described by Dombrowski:
- Frequent reference to images and metaphors
- The ability to invent and fantasize
- The ability to detailed visualization, the perception of poetry and dramatic art, the tendency to animate the world around us and the readiness for magic
- The ability to live in a fantasy world
- Addiction to magic books and fairy tales
- Stage abilities
- Spontaneous creation of visual images to express emotional stress
- Animistic imagination, a mixture of reality and fiction, the ability to produce dreams and illusions
- Intolerance to boredom
This is an interesting field for research, which, as Jessica Köhler hopes, will soon be carefully studied to prove the connection between the over-excitability of children and their creation of imaginary friends.
Open to new experiences
Another area for scientific research is associated with the famous theory of the “Big Five” personality traits. Thanks to research, a possible connection has been discovered between the tendency to make friends and openness to experience. And this, in turn, again refers to the concept of over-excitability and giftedness.
Venue – Fantasy
In 1999, psychologist Marjorie Taylor, exploring the issues of imagination and creativity, described the creation of fictional companions as a “magic circle” in her book “Imaginary Friends and Children Creating Them”. According to Jessica Koehler, this is a perfect analogy.
Children have their own enchanted world, which they do not always want to discover. And if parents were allowed there, then it is worth gratefully accepting such an experience. This is a great opportunity to establish contact with the child and learn about his feelings through questions and a careful study of the fantasy world.
A friend should be treated with caution and in no case take the upper hand over him, because the child wants to control the situation. During this amazing journey, parents will enjoy the joy of communicating with their child, and in the future they can contribute to the development of a creative personality. “Perhaps it is in your family that the new Agatha Christie grows,” concludes Jessica Köhler.
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