All children need other children to play with. It is not a kindness to a child to keep him from playing with other children for fear he will get a children’s disease, learn bad language, or learn to play roughly. Children need youngsters as part of learning to grow up and get along with other people. If a child does not have other children to play with he will often invent imaginary companions who seem very real to him. Most children have one or more imaginary companions through the pre-school years. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about, providing the child is also a happy, active youngster who plays also with other boys and girls.
If the imaginary playmate seems ever-present, or the child seems unable to realize the difference between his imaginary playmate and reality, it is sometimes a sign that the child is seeking satisfaction in this made-up friend because he cannot find it in real life. If a child has only older children to play with, or children who are considerably tougher than he is, so that he is unable to meet them on an equal footing, he will sometimes withdraw from the group and seek comfort from his imaginary playmate. If he is not entirely happy with his parents, if they have been too critical or punishing, or have expected too much of him for his age, he may again look for the perfect playmate and the understanding person in his imaginary companion.
If the child’s absorption in the imaginary playmate shuts out all active play with other children, the parents should look more carefully into the needs of the youngster to see in what way they are not being fully met. Never try to take the imaginary playmate away or ridicule or tease the child about his unreal companion. As he finds greater satisfaction in real situations, his imaginary playmate may still be enjoyed but will play a less important part. (Continue below to page 2)