Influence of imaginary friends on social development in school aged children

Many studies have revealed that school-aged children utilize imaginary friends to avoid
loneliness when they do not have a real social companion, while others have focused on
imaginary friends as a learning tool. This paper examines and analyzes new literature on the
subject, with an emphasis on how imaginary companions might help kids learn and develop
social skills.
Keywords: school-aged children, imaginary friends, social skills.
Influence of Imaginary Friends on Social Development in School-Aged Children
The creativity and imagination of children are always puzzling to an adult mind. As their
mind is in the developing stage, they tend to suppose a lot of things and ideas in their brain. The
most interesting aspect is that they consider these ideas real and act accordingly. It is crucial for
the development of cognition of their incredibly non-experienced brain (Harter et al., 1992).
Children of all ages are engaged in play with imaginary friends. They consider themselves in a
scenario of imaginary friends or friends and play with them for real. A child’s imagination has no
boundaries. They have got the time out of worries and developing an imaginary world is crucial
for the enhancement of the cognitive function of their brains. Their imaginary friends participate
in several games and activities they like to play and enjoy. The imagination comes from the
processing ability of several objects, persons, and experiences they encounter. It is sometimes
referred to as the fantasy play of children crucial for their mental, emotional, and cognitive
Literature Review
Games in general are crucial for the betterment and enhancement of skills of a child that
could help him later in life. There are several skills children acquire when they get to play. The
most important for all is the problem-solving ability. The more they imagine situations while
playing and tangle themselves in ideas and vague thoughts, the more they are capable of finding
solutions to their self-created problem. This progresses the creativity in their minds. The minds
become mature in thoughts and make possible judgments and assessments along the way.
Learning approximate measures, imagining distance lengths, and learning to read human
expressions are all the fruits of imaginary play-moments and make-belief friends of children.
The development of creativity is always encouraging for a child’s mind (Davis et al.,
2020). When they imagine certain friends to play with they tend to relate them to the people of
the present world. It is likely a chance that they get to encounter such people in their real life and
guess what they are capable of dealing with as they have done in their imaginative world.
However, real life is not so easy to handle.
It comes with exceptions and hard realities to face but the imagination somehow tends to
play its role in learning new experiences and struggling for the progression of mental and
physical abilities. They might not be able to deal with the realistic situation like they do in their
imagination but at least get to know how the real world is different and surpass their imagination.
In this way, they tend to create better imaginative action and strive for plan B next time.
Types of Imaginary Friends
There are two types of imaginary friends that children encounter while playing. There
may be a friend having no realistic basis and nonexistence, in fact visible or a personified object.
The term personified object means children consider an object like a chair or a toy as their friend
and start playing with it. They share their toys and foods with them, hide them and find their
personified objects, teach them manners, produce their likely sounds, and play certain games
with them.
The children interact with them as close friends and sometimes share their secrets as well.
This whole phenomenon is referred to as giving certain characteristics, shapes, and behavior to
their friends the exact way they want. In this way, they generate a response giving a notion that
they expect these kinds of friends for themselves. Mostly, children with no siblings make objects
for their sisters or brothers to play with. This gives a clear explanation to their parents that they
want someone to play with or heartily watch other kids playing with their siblings.
Imagination and Birth Order
The cognitive ability of a child varies with his birth order. The creation of imaginary
companions and finding play-mates is prevalent in the first child. There are many reasons for it.
The most accepted one is they want to have siblings and friends to play with. They need friends
of their age who understand their language and gestures, most importantly they think the same
way. It is also said that first-order children tend to complement their loneliness via their
imagination. They enjoy the companionship created by themselves and teach them the same way
they learn new things. They tend to see their reflection in their make-belief friends.
The increased tendency, need and capability of imagination in a first child directly relates
to his cognitive ability and philosophical skills. If the child remains single for a long period of
time until his siblings are born, he tends to have a deep artistically philosophical view of life
because he has spent years alone in imagination, talking to himself and cherishing his loneliness
in the best companionship in his mind (Carter et al., 2018). However, the traits only affect the
cognition of a child. Researchers show that there are no significant personality differences in
these children. They may have similar nature and behavior as their other siblings or basic traits
referring to their genetic predisposition but their cognition has been affected at large.
The difference happens when someone gives such children a situation, a topic to, a
personality or a play-mate to imagine. One would notice the height of differences in their
imagination skills. The first-order child would show quick responses, engaging playmates, the
game of rules, and laughter in his imagination more rapidly than his other siblings. It is because
he is adept at such skills. The same goes for creating or manipulating an idea or belief in
someone. The first order child would think purposefully and find it easy to write and create new
thoughts. The studies do not say that the first-order child is always an intelligent one. The point
is the longer the gap between first and second-order children, the longer he imagines his playmates to compensate for his loneliness and the creative imagination skills he would develop in
this course.
Play-mates as a Social Provision
It is seen that most of the children who suppose friends in their games are the ones who
have lost a close friend or a family member in their lives. The play-mates may be those who used
to play with them and their death have revolutionized the mind of the child in all circumstances
urging him to imagine and imitate the same aspects of games he used to play. It is not always
that children learn things by the imagination of play-mates, it may also happen that they tend to
copy real-life experiences in their games. It is important and crucial to observe if someone wants
to learn about the behavior and social experience of his child in general.
Children may develop certain social skills and behaviors in their schools and tend to
repeat them in their games. However, the situation arises only if they like or enjoy the skill they
gained (Gordis et al., 2012). The imagination of play-mates is also seen as a transitional phase of
a child’s life. If a child has started to build a relationship with some kids, he finds himself new in
the circle and tends to practice his social circle in his games to apply and deliver his best in the
real life. It signifies his personality traits and expectations from others. In this way, he learns the
difference between real and imaginative worlds and that expectations are not always likely to be
fulfilled in reality.
The imaginative perspectives are not just limited to the persons who are dead in a child’s
life. It may also happen as a child advance in his life and learns to recognize and build new
relationships in his life he finds it difficult to tackle them all of a sudden. Children tend to
concentrate and brainstorm about how to deal with certain relationships. They tend to practice
their relationships and expectations to meet their demands in life. While playing with their
imaginative companions they try situations about how they are likely to harm or give benefit to
people around them. They learn how to sacrifice and celebrate their victory in front of their
relatives (Smith et al., 2009). The things of significance like events and how to react in certain
situations are all the results of a child’s cognitive behavior he learned from his playmate
This practice of relationships before applying to real-life has long-lasting benefits later in
adulthood as well. Sometimes the imaginary relationships are exact replicas of the friends,
family, and relatives they desire to live with. It may differ from reality like they want some
people to change, some people to leave, some to get back to their life, some to play with them,
some not to poke nose in their matters, stay away from them, bring them food and take them to
movie, playground or a place they desire to go.
It is highly appreciative of such imaginative thoughts and their role in the daily life of a
child. It tends to modulate the thinking capacity in a way that signifies the difference between the
real and imaginative world. When children find it difficult to explain a certain situation or a
school of thought to anyone as they find it difficult to use words and terminology for others to
understand, they find it easy to communicate and play with their imaginary partners and find
comfortable doing so.
Characteristics of Imaginary Friends
There are certain gender differences in the imagination of play-mates. Girls tend to define
characteristics in their play-mates that differ entirely from boys. Imaginary companions and
playmates are more common with children from three to five years of age. Gender differences
play an important role in signifying the personality and attitude of children. Girls imagine friends
that belong to a specific gender and are mostly human species. They encounter several humans
and imitate them in their games and try to connect with them in spiritual ways. They tend to find
love and companionship, helping hands, and loyalty.
These traits signify the character of a girl and she tries to deliver her best to the
relationships around her. If a girl does not find good friends or gets bullied by her friends, she
tends to correct the situation in her play-mate and acquire from him the same type of behavior
she desires. If a girl likes someone, she would practice the attitude of love, imagining that person
as her playmate and practicing expressing her feelings. Researchers have also found that
practicing and building high-quality relationships in play-mates for girls are desired and it leads
to situations and creation of problems and finding possible solutions are applied in this category.
Boys, however, have entirely different approaches and categories of imaginary friends. They are
more attracted towards monsters, movie and cartoon characters, and creatures other than humans
rather than animals as their play-mates.
Boys are fascinated by fantasy entertainment material more than girls. (Adams et al.,
2011) They tend to make plans to visit their expected or favorite character of the movie. The
mindset may not be as mature as girls, because they advance themselves and feel comfortable in
the world of imagination and are not ready to face the reality and other natural aspects of life. So,
they try to imitate whatever is put in their minds. They create a superhero in the form of a
playmate and assume doing many incredible things with him. They imagine flying with him,
playing in the water, climbing the mountains and turning to fire and water, etc. In this way, they
communicate the magical happenings with their monsters. The monsters could be anything for
example if they like to create a duo of animals. i.e., Fish and fox, they create it and talk to it and
get fascinated by it. Boys also practice relationships and expectations with their playmates. They
give those targets to race with, hide things and ask them to find them, compete while eating food
and learn how to swim with their superheroes.
Fantasy vs Reality
The imaginary play-mates tend to give children significant differences in their fantasy
and the real world. They tend to play games and manage situations according to the rules they
want. They may win or lose but that depends upon their choice and the type of playmate they
have chosen for themselves. If they want a playmate whom they love and cherish, they may give
him chances to win and take their position, be distinctive and cheer the crowd. In terms of
supposing a cruel partner, they would never like him to win or take the argument. The skill is
helpful for them to face the reality in their life.
When the actual match begins, they apply and maintain a similar momentum and are
subjected to the pros and cons of it, maybe the person they choose to defeat with their skills has
won and taken their place in reality. This brings disappointment to them and makes them realize
the huge differences in their imagination to the outside world and how insignificant their
measurements are. It helps them to devise better plans and not to choose by themselves. It helps
them to get encouragement and determination from failures of life so next time they come to the
ground with different strategies that are closer to reality and approachable than previous ones. It
helps them improve their cognition and statistical skills in an incredibly fast way. The problemsolving and rapid progression and utilization of cognitive skills are also helpful in the academics
of a child. This gives him a natural foresight to make necessary amendments in the future. When
children realize the differences in their fantasy and the real world their conceptual knowledge
grows and they are capable of processing the information effectively.
Emotional Understanding
As children advance in life and learn how to express and understand emotions, they like
to practice them with their imaginary friends. If a play-mate has made some mistake they teach
them how to say sorry from the core of their heart and express sorrow and guilt on their face to
let the next person know that one is actually in the guilt of his mistake. Children must practice
emotions to get adept at this. Those children who lack emotional practice face hardships while
expressing their feelings. At a certain moment, a sudden rush of feelings approaches their way
and they get confused about how to react at a certain moment. To avoid such situations in their
real life and feel comfortable with the people around them they tend to express emotions in front
of their play-mates.
Independent Lifestyle
The expression of emotions in front of play-mates and making significant amendments to
it are enough to surprise the family and relatives with innovation in the behaviors of children.
Children play with their imaginary friend’s games and create imaginary situations to cope up and
find solutions. It seems like they are alone and practicing certain skills alone but deep in their
thought, such a child is never alone. (Giupponi et al., 2023) He always has one best imaginary
friend who teaches him new games, new rules, and necessary amendments about how to play
games and develop interest. The moral support encourages him to do better and solve his
problems on his own.
The Duration of Imaginary Friends
Children start imagining their friends when they are toddlers and develop a full image
with all the details at the age of 3 to 5 years. This age group is likely to be ruled by enormous
play-mates and imaginary relationships that fascinate a child the way he wants. Most people
consider imaginary friends as a sign of loneliness, but to modern psychologists, it is utterly the
sign of a child’s creativity (Majors et al., 2017). Although the circumstances are such that when a
child is alone he gets to imagine friends but being alone is the time when he begins to
concentrate, focus and find a chance to be imaginative and enjoy a little play-date with his
imaginary friends. The purpose of imaginary friends and play-mate at this age is to overcome
loneliness, think of creative ideas, plan surprises about strengthening relationships, enhance
problem-solving skills, and explore news rules and games.
Limitations of Current Researches and Future Directions
Modern research is based upon finding benefits of imaginary friends and playmates. The
data has revolutionized multiple times beating about the bush. There are many questions from
the general public that imaginary play-mates are a sign of loneliness? If they are not then why
are the thoughts highly progressive for a single child with no siblings? The relationship of
loneliness and the impact of play-mates on one’s personality should be addressed. It is important
to relate the two aspects because the cognitive ability varies between children of a certain age
and gender.
Imaginary friends (sometimes called fake friends, supernatural beings, or formed friends)
are a sociological and psychological process in which a friendship or other emotional contact
occurs in the imagination rather than in reality. It’s critical for their brain’s very inexperienced
cognition to grow. Playing with imaginary companions engages children of all ages. They
imagine themselves in a setting with imagined buddies or pals and pretend to play with them.
The imagination of a youngster knows no bounds. They’ve freed themselves from anxieties, and
creating an imaginative world is critical for improving their brain’s cognitive performance.
Games in general are essential for a child’s development and refinement of abilities that will
benefit him later in life.
When children get to play, they learn a variety of abilities. The capacity to solve
problems is the most crucial for everybody. They are more capable of discovering answers to
their self-created difficulty the more they conceive circumstances while playing and tangle
themselves in concepts and imprecise thoughts. This encourages them to be more creative. The
brains grow in their thinking, allowing them to make judgments and assessments along the
journey. Learning approximate measurements, picturing distance lengths, and reading human
expressions are all outcomes of children’s imagined play-moments and make-believe pals.
Adams, K. (2011). Unseen worlds: Looking through the lens of childhood. Jessica Kingsley
Akpakır, Z. (2021). Imaginary Companionships in Childhood and Their Impacts on Child
Development. Psikiyatride Guncel Yaklasimlar, 13(4), 820-830.
Carter, C., & Bath, C. (2018). The pirate in the pump: children’s views of objects as imaginary
friends at the start of school. Education 3-13, 46(3), 335-344.
Davis, P. E. (2020). 23 Imaginary Friends: How Imaginary Minds Mimic Real Life. The
Cambridge Handbook of the Imagination, 373.
Fritz, G. K. (2015). Imaginary friends. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior
Letter, 31(5), 8-8.
Giupponi, L. (2013). Imaginary friends, stalking, and curating the Web: An ESL student’s use of
social media (Doctoral dissertation).
Gordis, L. M. (2012). Friends imaginary and beautiful.
Harter, S., & Chao, C. (1992). The role of competence in children’s creation of imaginary
friends. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 350-363.
Majors, K., & Baines, E. (2017). Children’s play with their imaginary companions: Parent
experiences and perceptions of the characteristics of the imaginary companions and
purposes served. Educational and Child Psychology, 34(3).
Smith, P. K. (2009). Children and play: Understanding children’s worlds. John Wiley & Sons.

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