As a professional working with families, I am often asked about imaginary friends. I never experienced this behavior with my own son so I have little personal information to share.

One child required that a place be made for the "friend" at mealtimes complete with chair and food. She scolded people for sitting in her friend's chair or sitting in her place in the car. This lasted for several years. She is now a middle age lady who can tell you the names and description of her friends.

This lady has struggled with relationships and inappropriate behavior over the years. I am wondering if there is any relationship between her imaginative friends and her lifelong behavior.

Should parents "adopt" their children's imaginary friends or discourage their presence? If they should be discouraged, what strategies are helpful?

  • 2
    My thinking is along the old saying, that anything is good as long as it's done in moderation. The parents of the child you mention clearly let it go out of control; serving real meals for an imagined friend can't be right. But without personal experience, I can't offer an opinion on where to draw the line. Aug 1, 2011 at 7:04

2 Answers 2


I think in general terms they should be accepted. It is part and parcel of a child's growing abilities in terms of social development; - of acquiring the ability to pretend, engage in role play and develop 'theory of mind.' Many, many children, (including my own) have gone through this normal, healthy phase of development.

As for the lady you mention, it is very tempting to look upon a correlation between two factors, (the pretend friend and her later problems) and attribute one as being a causative factor for the other. I would suggest a third variable as the cause for her later problems.

I see the creation of an imaginary friend by the child as a step forward in social development.

  • I'd see nothing wrong with it so long as it's kept under control. I also agree with the causative argument, it's hard as 3rd persons without detailed knowledge to know, although as a parent I would not be wasting food for an imaginary friend. A setting, along the lines of Elijah at a Seder, would be fine for me but at some point I'd start noting the differences between real friends and imaginary if my child was not making the difference.
    – MichaelF
    Aug 3, 2011 at 11:42

It's difficult to answer this question. Sometimes, childreen have imaginary friends because they don't have friends, the don't feel understood for the other children in their class, and they search a friend to share their thoughts and he/she feels understood for that special friend. I think that parent would have to see if there is one of this reasons for their son/daughter looking for an imaginary friend. On the other hand, this wouldn't be confound with the fact that childreen initially speaks aloud standing alone, whereas playing. This is a very normal process before they adquire intern language, a very important process. In summary, the more important thing we would take into account is the reason and not the fact itself.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .