Many children experience a common phenomenon known as the imaginary companion. This usually manifests itself in the creation of an invisible person that they engage in an active relationship with. While many parents are confused about how to approach and relate to their child and their child’s imaginary companion they should be assured that the process is quite normal. Imaginary companions are not a sign of mental illness but a normal healthy part of a child’s development (Taylor, 1999).
Historical View of Imaginary Companions
Early research on imaginary companions was deficit focused in nature Some of the earliest research around the beginning of the 1900’s viewed it as a sign of a psychological disorder (Vostrovsky, 1895). A psychoanalytic perspective was taken in around the 1940’s but imaginary companions were then viewed as defense mechanisms for children who had personality defects (Hoff, 2005). Even the well known and respected Dr. Benjamin Spock felt that a child who spent too much time with an imaginary friend raised the question of whether the child was lacking something in their life. (Simpson). Research done by Marjorie Taylor in Imaginary Companions and the Children who Create Them discredits the idea that imaginary companions are created because of a deficit. Taylor instead says that while some imaginary friends may be created due to a loss of playmates or a birth of a new sibling "for many children creating imaginary others is just a fun thing to do” (1999). Marjorie Taylor also directed attention to the fact that random selection of children for the earlier studies did not occur. Most of the children were selected from hospitals or another medical establishment where there were higher odds of emotional and psychological disorders (1999). Some children who are shy, maladjusted, experiencing stress or trauma may create imaginary companions to cope but there is no evidence that says that all children create imaginary companions for those reasons (Singer & Singer, 1990). In fact studies have shown that children with imaginary companions have be more socially orientated than not (Gleason, Jarudi & Cheek, 2003). Imaginary companions may serve a variety of functions but the particular function they fulfill for each child depends on the wishes and needs of the one who creates them (Hart & Zellars, 2006).
How did imaginary friends get created?
Starting from infancy children start with sensorimotor play which consists of only motor activity (Ungerer, Zelazo, Kearsley, & O'Leary, 1981). A young child that likes to shake a rattle to hear the sound is engaging in sensorimotor play. Infants also engage in imitation. Imitation is the replication of the activities of another when they can see the activity being done (Frahsek, Mack, Mack, Pfalz-Blezinger & Knopf, 2010). The child and the type of play they engage in will grows more complex as the child’s development advances (Piaget, 1962).
As the child grows a little...