By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My 4-year-old has an imaginary friend. She has had her for about a year now. She makes space for her at the table and sometimes even pretends to feed her. What is the best way for me to deal with this?
It's really nothing to worry about! It's common for preschool-age children to have imaginary friends or pretend animal friends or to insist their stuffed animals are "real." Your daughter is simply using her imagination, which is growing by leaps and bounds during these important years. Developmental psychologists call this "symbolic thinking," and it can show up in many different ways, including playing with dolls or action figures or using an everyday object (symbol) as a stand-in for an imaginary item (e.g., a fork becomes a rocket ship at the dinner table). Another term for this is "make-believe," and it is one of the many behaviors that make this age so delightful.
Sometimes a child uses her imaginary friend to explain her negative behavior, blaming her friend for throwing toys, making a mess or talking back, etc. This common behavior lets you know that your little one is starting to learn the difference between right and wrong but is still at a primitive level. She can't yet take full responsibility for her own actions. If this happens, remind her of the rules and encourage her to explain them to her "friend" as they clean up the mess or spend a few minutes in a time-out.
As for the best way for you to deal with it, my suggestions are simple:
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you more
insights to help you help your child succeed.
Thank you! You will begin to receive newsletters from us shortly.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to complete your registration.
Great work! Only one more step. Now we just need you to verify your email address. Please click on the link in the email we just sent you to submit your review.
Please click on the link in the verification email we just sent you to complete your change of email address.
Whoops! It looks like we still need to verify your email. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the e-mail? Click the button below and we'll send you a new one.
Thanks for registering. Welcome to GreatSchools, the largest online community committed to improving educational outcomes through parental involvement.
Thanks for verifying your updated email address.
Oops! You haven't verified your email address yet. To do so, please click on the link in the email we sent you. Can't find the email? Click the button below to receive a new one.
Oops! That email verification link has expired. Please click the button below to receive a new one.
Create an account to submit your answers.
Sign in with an existing GreatSchools account or using Facebook:
Your review has been posted to GreatSchools.
Share with friends! Post your opinion of on Facebook.
Welcome to GreatSchools!
For principals and school officials, we offer a special Enhanced School Profile (ESP) which allows you to update and add information about your school, as well as respond to reviews. If you are a school official, click Continue to start.
Please note that it can take up to 48 hours for your comment to be posted to our site. While you're here, we'd like to invite you to fill out a survey on your school's programs, activities, and extracurriculars. It only takes a few minutes and will help parents get a full picture of your school.
Get started now! You have successfully registered and can now start updating your Official School Profile. The information you provide is extremely valuable in helping parents and students learn more about your school, so thanks for taking the time!
Thank you for registering as a school leader. We just need to verify your email address. We've sent you an email - please click on the link in that message to get started editing your school's information!
Thanks! We just sent you an email – please click on the link in the email to post your answers.
Get timely updates for , including performance data and recently posted user reviews.