Children's Imaginary Companions: What is it Like to Have an Invisible Friend?

Authored by: Marjorie Taylor , Alison B. Shawher , Anne M. Mannering

Handbook of Imagination and Mental Simulation

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  September  2012

Print ISBN: 9781841698878
eBook ISBN: 9780203809846
Adobe ISBN: 9781136678103


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The creation of an imaginary companion is only one of many forms that fantasy production takes during the preschool years, but we think it is particularly intriguing. Children as young as 2 or 3 talk to their imaginary companions and listen to what they have to say, showing that the capacity to love and derive comfort from an imaginary other does not require a lengthy history or extensive experience with interpersonal interactions. However, adult observers often do not know what to make of this type of play. While they might admire or be amused by children's descriptions of the lives and characteristics of imaginary companions, they quickly become concerned when children seem too caught up in the fantasy. Despite research showing that imaginary companions are common and tend to be associated with positive characteristics such as the ability to take the perspective of another person (D. Singer & Singer, 1990; Taylor & Carlson, 1997), it can be unnerving to see a child smile toward empty space and whisper to an invisible friend. Does the child really believe there is someone sitting there? In this chapter, we discuss the extent that children are aware of the make-believe status of their imaginary companions and other issues related to how invisible friends are experienced by young children.

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