Once seen by psychologists as a sign of character weakness, or an inability to differentiate fantasy from reality, imaginary friends are today recognised as an entirely normal, and even beneficial, part of childhood (around half of all kids have one at some point).
Imaginary friends can help children to make sense of the adult world and practise thinking about the emotional and mental states of others. They also allow kids to exercise their linguistic and storytelling skills, to feel comforted when lonely, and to feel competent and in control – by caring for their fantasy friend, for instance, or teaching them how to do things. So there’s no need to worry!
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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.