Seeing your kids having a conversation by themselves might really freak you out. But having imaginary friends is perfectly normal, experts say. In fact, having an imaginary friend may even have some serious benefits, both social and cognitive.
According to a 2004 study, about 65 percent of kids have had an imaginary friend by age 7. And while there was a time when parents found this worrisome, plenty of researches done over the last decade has shown that those make-believe pals are simply a product of a creative imagination.
“Certainly, it scares many parents today when they have children who are talking to people who are not there,” Ansley Gilpin, a psychologist at the University of Alabama’s Knowledge in Development (KID) Lab, recently told Science Friday. As the 2004 study showed, children of all personality types had imaginary companions, so they shouldn’t be considered a red flag.
Kids who have imaginary friends might be more fortified to deal with real relationships later on in their life. A study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology looked at how imaginary friends impacted a child’s ‘private speech’ i.e. the chatter of a young child who has with himself, has been shown to improve cognitive abilities.
Marjorie Taylor, a researcher on the topic of imaginary friends, told Science Friday that the ability to create a fully formed character speaks to an image that will stick with a child even when they don’t remember their fake pal anymore. “Imagination is not just a frivolous thing you outgrow,” she explained.
That being said, if you didn’t have an imaginary friend that does not cause for alarm. “It is not true that all intelligent children create imaginary companions nor that only highly intelligent children create them,” Taylor said. “The absence of an imaginary friend says nothing about the child’s intellectual abilities.”