Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Imaginary friends

3-minute read

Many children have an imaginary friend, a made-up person or animal that seems real to them. This is nothing to worry about. It may even mean your child is more intelligent and creative than usual.

Why does my child have 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, or a completely imaginary creature. They might be with your child all the time, they might come and go, or they might just come at certain times and in certain places.

Children can have imaginary friends from about the age of 2½ through to their school years. The 'friendship' usually lasts for a few months, but some children have imaginary friends for several years.

Having imaginary friends can be positive. It can help your child to express their feelings, give them someone to play with, and help them develop their social skills. Children with imaginary friends are often more empathetic, intelligent and creative.

Some studies show that as many as 2 in 3 children have an imaginary friend at some time in their lives.

Should I be concerned?

Imaginary friends can help your child because they don’t judge them, they are always available, they are special to your child, and they support your child.

Very occasionally, children develop an imaginary friend after they have been traumatised. If your child is upset by the imaginary friend or if the friend is mean or nasty, talk to your doctor.

What should I do?

Don’t make a fuss when your child mentions their imaginary friend. Don’t contradict them or question them too much about the friend. Don’t get too involved — it’s their imaginary friend, not yours.

It’s fine for you to talk to the imaginary friend, but the more you make them a part of the real world, the longer they are likely to stay.

Imaginary friends can help you to see if your child has a problem. For example, if the imaginary friend is afraid of something, your child is probably afraid of the same thing. If the friend is misbehaving, your child may feel there are too many rules.

Most children with imaginary friends develop normal social skills. But if your child is choosing to play with an imaginary friend rather than real children, you might need to intervene and find things they can enjoy in the real world as well.

The best thing to do is to support your child and wait for them to grow out of this common phase.

Handling issues with imaginary friends

Imaginary friends can cause some annoying behaviour. Here are some tips for how to handle common issues.

  • Your child blames the imaginary friend for doing something bad: Calmly tell your child that their friend could not have done this. Then have your child help to clean up the mess and gently remind them of the rules.
  • You are asked to keep doing things for imaginary friends: Your child might ask you to lay a place at the table for their imaginary friend, or to make a snack for them. That’s fine. Rather than do it yourself, ask your child to help. That will help develop their skills.
  • Your child keeps consulting the imaginary friend: Sometimes children won’t do anything without asking their imaginary friend first. Calmly say to your child, “I want to hear what you think, not what your friend thinks”.

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

Last reviewed: April 2021


Back To Top

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.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Development milestones - your child at 4 years

Your child reaching their development milestones is an exciting time for parents. Find out what to expect from your child and how to track their growth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Child development at 4-5 years | Raising Children Network

At 4-5 years, your preschooler is learning to express emotion and likes to be around people. Read how to help child development and spot delay at this age.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Preschool play ideas & creative activities | Raising Children Network

Play fosters imagination in preschoolers, which is important for development. Play ideas include nature walks, busy boxes, dress-ups, puppet play and more.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

How children make friends

Making and keeping friends isn't always easy, and children need to learn how to do it. However, there are ways you can help them – find out how here.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

3-5 Year Old Child Development Tips & Advice | Tresillian

Tips and advice on ways you can help your child’s development during pre-schooling years; what to expect as a parent and what is ‘normal’ for 3-5 year olds.

Read more on Tresillian website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.