Many children experience a common phenomenon known as the imaginary companion. This usually manifests itself in the creation of an invisible person that they engage in an active relationship with. While many parents are confused about how to approach and relate to their child and their child’s imaginary companion they should be assured that the process is quite normal. Imaginary companions are not a sign of mental illness but a normal healthy part of a child’s development (Taylor, 1999).
Historical View of Imaginary Companions
Early research on imaginary companions was deficit focused in nature Some of the earliest research around the beginning of the 1900’s viewed it as a sign of a psychological disorder (Vostrovsky, 1895). A psychoanalytic perspective was taken in around the 1940’s but imaginary companions were then viewed as defense mechanisms for children who had personality defects (Hoff, 2005). Even the well known and respected Dr. Benjamin Spock felt that a child who spent too much time with an imaginary friend raised the question of whether the child was lacking something in their life. (Simpson). Research done by Marjorie Taylor in Imaginary Companions and the Children who Create Them discredits the idea that imaginary companions are created because of a deficit. Taylor instead says that while some imaginary friends may be created due to a loss of playmates or a birth of a new sibling "for many children creating imaginary others is just a fun thing to do” (1999). Marjorie Taylor also directed attention to the fact that random selection of children for the earlier studies did not occur. Most of the children were selected from hospitals or another medical establishment where there were higher odds of em...
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Lillard, A. S. (1993). Pretend play skills and the child's theory of mind. Child Development, 64(2), 348-371. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.ep9306035466
Lillard, A. S., & Sobel, D. (1999). Lion Kings or puppies: the influence of fantasy on children's understanding of pretense. Developmental Science, 2(1), 75
Taylor, M. 1999. Imaginary companions and the children who create them. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ungerer, J. A., Zelazo, P. R., Kearsley, R. B., & O'Leary, K. (1981). Developmental Changes in the Representation of Objects in Symbolic Play from 18 to 34 Months of Age. Child Development, 52(1), 186-195. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.ep8864681
Vasta, Ross, Haith, Marshall M., Miller, Scott, A. (1999) Child Pyschocology: the modern science. Third Edition. John Wiley & Sons inc. New York, New York.
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