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Imaginary friends

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Many children have an imaginary friend, which might be a made-up person or creature that seems real to them.
  • Imaginary friends are nothing to worry about.
  • Imaginary friends are a way for your child to be creative and develop social skills.
  • There are things you can do to manage any issues with your child’s imaginary friend.

What is an imaginary friend?

Young children often have active imaginations. Sometimes, they will imagine they have a friend who is not really there. It could be:

  • someone they already know
  • a character from a story or movie
  • an animal
  • a completely imaginary creature

They might:

  • be with your child all the time
  • come and go
  • just appear at certain times and in certain places

Some children may also speak to their stuffed animals and toys as if they are real.

Are imaginary friends normal?

Some studies show that 60% of children have an imaginary friend at some time in their lives.

Children may have imaginary friends from about the age of 2 through to their school years. The 'friendship' usually lasts for a few months, but some children have imaginary friends for several years.

Why does my child have an imaginary friend?

Your child might create an imaginary friend for different reasons, such as because they:

  • want to explore a concept
  • need help solving problems
  • want a friend or are lonely
  • are seeking comfort
  • want to control their emotions
  • want to explore roles, such as feeling in charge or in control
  • want to engage in fantasy play

Having imaginary friends can be positive. It can help your child to:

  • express their feelings
  • give them someone to play with
  • help them develop their social skills
  • build creativity

What should I do about my child’s imaginary friend?

If your child has an imaginary friend, it is okay for you to interact with them. But, don’t get too involved. Let your child be in control of their imaginary friend and their play time, so that they develop social skills.

Imaginary friends can help you to understand your child. For example, if the imaginary friend is afraid of something, your child is probably afraid of the same thing.

How should I handle issues with imaginary friends?

If your child blames the imaginary friend for something they have done, use it as a teaching tool. For example, your child might tell you that their imaginary friend spilled some water. You can tell them that mistakes happen, and that they should help the imaginary friend clean up the spill.

If your child is choosing to play with an imaginary friend rather than real children, they may need support. There are things you can do to help your child make friends in the real world.

When should I be concerned about my child’s imaginary friend?

Imaginary friends are often a normal part of development. However, some children can develop an imaginary friend:

  • after they have been traumatised
  • if they have special educational needs

You can talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your child.

Your child might have an imaginary friend that is mean or scary. Talk to your child if their imaginary friend upsets them. This can help them to deal with conflict in the real world.

Resources and support

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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Need more information?

Imaginary friends & children | Raising Children Network

Imaginary friends come from healthy imaginations. They help children express feelings and practise skills. Children usually grow out of imaginary friends.

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