Tips for Tots: Imaginary Friends

By Anne A. McGrady

Imaginary friends may become a part of your child’s life at age 3-4 years old.  These imaginary friends may “drop in” from time to time and as many as two out of children experience imaginary friends.  These “friends” usually leave permanently by the time the child is five or six years old.

Children may find different ways to deal with fears, anxieties, being lonely, shy, a desire to have friends or being anxious but this usually carries no need to be concerned.

An imaginary friend has many advantages.  This “friend” is always there to play and is very cooperative.  The child may include this “friend” in adventures and also including a place at the dinner table.  Other children prefer this “friend” to only be a friend to the child.

Imaginary friends can be there to help the child absorb blame and angry as well as destructive feelings – your child can talk to this “friend” and stay in control.  Also, this “friend” can keep a child safe from monsters, fears of new experiences and noises.  Also, during an adventure this “friend” provides comfort.  This healthy relationship leaves when the child no longer needs this support.

Be careful and do not allow imaginary friends to avoid consequences of unacceptable behaviors.

Tips to Understand Imaginary Friends

• Should not take the place of real friends – provide opportunities for interactions among friends.

• Accept “friends” as a natural part of childhood and if they make an appearance.

• Don’t be critical or deny that “friends” exists – allow child to enjoy the experience.

• Don’t adopt the imaginary friend yourself - let your child take lead.

• If child uses “friend” to deal with negative feelings, encourage child to talk to you instead.

• Relationship on how your child takes and plays with this imaginary friend will help you with understanding your child’s feelings and thoughts.

Your child is using this imaginary playmate to test their emotions and feelings and through this “friend” your child is learning skills for future real friendships.

REFERENCE:  Your Toddler, Dr. Tanya Byron, 2008



• Imaginary Friends Books for Preschoolers (ages 2-5). Preschoolers love life and are fascinated by the world around them.  They love to be read to and enjoy vibrant, engaging pictures.

• Ellison the Elephant, by Eric Drachman

(Follow Ellison, an elephant  who is mocked because of the unique sound he makes with his trunk.)

• Emma Kate, by Patricia Polacco 

(A girl named Emma Kate has an imaginary friend who just happens to be an elephant)

• Imaginary Friends Books for Early Readers (Ages 6-9): Early readers are just beginning to delve into the world of reading and love to read aloud.  The following books contain simple words that are easy to sound out, making them great for beginning readers.

• Jessica, by Kevin Henkes

(About Jessica and her imaginary friend, Ruthie.  Ruthie accompanies Jessica everywhere, even to school.)

• My Imaginary Friend, by Shirley Povondra and Kathryn Andrew

(This poignant book introduces Kathann, a young girl affected by sexual abuse, and Becky, the imaginary friend who helps her cope.  My Imaginary Friend helps address the painful topic of sexual abuse in a way kids can understand and may help kids who have experienced sexual abuse find the courage to share their stores with trusted adults.)

• Imaginary Friends Books for Independent Readers (Ages 8-12) (Independent and middle grated readers are able to read independently and are often looking for action and a bit of the unusual in the books they read.)

• Invisible Inkling:  Dangerous Pumpkins, by Emily Jenkins

(This is the second book in a series about Hank and his invisible bandapat, a creature native to the Peruvian Woods of Mystery.