Meet Jingles, my oldest son's sister. She is a stuffed bunny with special needs. She has a prosthetic leg, and cannot speak (because she has no mouth), but luckily she can eat pancakes.
Imaginary friends and their stories are so hilarious, and we all hope we don't find our kids hanging out with Drop Dead Fred, but when my son started crying the other day when he accidentally ate Jingles's share of the pancakes, I did a little research.
Turns out that although there is not a lot of data as to the number of children who have imaginary friends (it's believed to be about 2/3 of kids though), there is a ton of scientific research that suggests imaginary friends lead to a more creative, articulate, and socially engaged human!
When this all went down yesterday, I thought, "Is my kid ok? Is this ok? Should I intervene?" Dr. Claire McCarthy of Boston Children's Hospital wrote an article in their Thriving Blog that referenced a University of Oregon study that found, in short, it's all good mama! There are definitely exceptions, though. If your child seems depressed or disengaged, move forward with whatever your heart tells you to do.
I was a bit concerned over my son being so upset over accidentally eating Jing's food, but when I read a little further, I found that imaginary friends often become more "real" during confusing times... Like now.
The U of O study found that oftentimes, the children in the study would make sure the researchers knew their friends were imaginary, lol. My kid is insisting she is real at this point, gets pretty annoyed when I ask him that question, and recalls when they met in the forest preserve. But I'm not worried. I'm reading my son's tears as empathy (and needing an earlier bedtime), and an attempt to feel in control of something. He wants to give Jingles the best life and care, and he is an overall happy kid!
If I ever do get more concerned though, I feel empowered with this knowledge, and hope you do to!
Conclusion: Imaginary friends are a very familiar part of childhood. These creative activities improve a child's ability to socially engage, articulate their thoughts, and deal with confusing situations. It can be hard for parents to distinguish healthy imagination behavior, from something that needs to be looked into. Thank goodness there is so much research out there at our fingertips, that empowers us to give the best care to our children as possible!