Whether you call them imaginary friends or invisible friends, they are a normal part of childhood development. It used to be that children with such friends were chastised or deemed to be emotionally disturbed or lonely.
But most of these theories that led to such treatment have since been disproved.
“It’s estimated between 25 and 45% of three to seven year olds create imaginary playmates. For most children, the friends are invisible, but some take the form of a doll, stuffed animal, or toy, such as a truck or airplane.” (3)
Marjorie Taylor and her colleagues at the University of Oregon interviewed 86 children and found that by age seven, about 37 percent of children have an invisible friend.
The invisible friend can be an object (e.g., a stuffed animal or toy) or a separate person. “[C]hildren who create a friend out of a personified object tend to have a parent-like relationship with their special toy friend, whereas children with invisible friends tend to imagine an egalitarian relationship, more like a real friend.” (1)
While imaginary friends are often thought of as a preschooler invention, it is surprisingly common among pre-teens as well. (3)
Why do Children Create Imaginary Friends?
It was thought, for many years — and still thought by some — that children invent imaginary friends because they’re lonely or have social problems. Research has since revealed otherwise.
In fact, children with imaginary or invisible friends tend to be less shy, laugh and smile more with peers, and are better able to empathize or identify with how someone else might think. (1)
Children who create an imaginary friend tend to be:
• Emotionally well-adjusted
• Intellectually skilled, but not necessarily of higher IQ
• Outgoing and social, not typically shy, isolated or withdrawn
• Advanced in understanding of social relationships
• Verbally skilled
• Able to take others’ perspectives to create complex play themes
• Able to focus on an idea and maintain good attention span
• Creative, but not significantly more creative than others