If your child has an imaginary friend, you may wonder what to do about it. Should you set an extra place at the table, as your child requests, or will your acceptance of the companion just prolong the fantasy?
Compromise is the best solution. It’s certainly all right to go along with some of your child’s requests for his imaginary friend. And as long as you’re patient with your child, it’s also all right to set limits: “You may talk about your friend, but we’re not going to change our routine for him right now.”
If you’re worried because your child believes in an imaginary character, keep in mind that we encourage children to believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and other pretend characters. The main difference between these and your child’s friend is that the friend is your child’s own creation.
If you think your child is involved in fantasy because he feels powerless, consider the amount of freedom you allow him. You may want to give him more opportunities to express his feelings, make decisions (“I don’t want to eat that”), and explore. And if your child seems lonely because of a recent move or the lack of nearby playmates, help him to find real friends who can eventually take the place of the imaginary one.
As your child grows, he will give up his pretend companion, and in time, he and you will look back on this short phase as simply an interesting part of growing up.