Thursday, March 27, 2008

Playing with Imaginary Friends

When my teenagers were little boys, they both had imaginary friends, with the adorable names of Scooter, Tinky and others that I can no longer remember. Now, my four-year-old twin boys have outdone them as they have both created whole new families! Austen’s family lives in a green house; Caleb’s lives in a grey house. They have another daddy and mommy (sob!) there, along with brothers and sisters and an assortment of pets. (Their “other” parents let them have a pet elephant!)

According to Marjorie Taylor, head of psychology at the University of Oregon and researcher of children’s pretend play, bringing imaginary people into their lives is surprisingly common in children. She found that by age 7, almost two-thirds of children had made up at least one friend. Most of these play pals arise in the preschool years, but she was surprised to find that some even arrived after children started elementary school.

These imaginary friends may be boys or girls; human or animal; mean or nice; many or few. In addition to being a lot of fun, they give kids a chance to role-play various issues in life, such as starting a new school, coping with a grandparent’s death or adding a baby sister to the family.

If your children have imaginary friends or family members, there’s no reason to be alarmed that they’ve lost touch with reality. In fact, it’s a very good sign of their creativity. And some studies have shown that these kids have better verbal and social skills. But, on the other hand, don’t be overly concerned if your child doesn’t invent invisible playmates. According to Dr. Taylor, “There are lots of ways to express creativity.”

Source: Goodnow, Cecelia. “Researchers take on imaginary playmates -- for real.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter, December 7, 2004.

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