Children exercise their creativity with imaginary friends, expert says

Today’s parents tend to worry about all manner of things that deserve not even second thoughts. Imaginary friends, for example.

I’m not aware of any specific research on the subject, but I’ve long thought that imaginary friends sharpen language and social skills and probably even improve overall neurological functioning. As they are a product of imagination, they exercise creative abilities. Perhaps best of all, imaginary friends keep young children occupied.

Along these same lines, parents need not be concerned about young children who tell fantastical stories about things they claim have happened to them but obviously have not.

Some parents mistakenly think these stories are lies and must be punished. No, this is not lying. By definition, lying is either harmful to other people or purposefully meant to conceal wrongdoing. A 4-year-old who insists he rode a dragon and fought a wizard is guilty of neither.

Parents once asked me about their 4-year-old who told such creative tales fairly often and could not be threatened or even punished into admitting they were not the truth. Did he, they asked, have a problem distinguishing fantasy from reality?

Of course he did, but this is nothing to be concerned about with a child this age who is functioning normally otherwise.

He is simply highly imaginative, and the imagination of a child is a thing to be treasured, especially in these digital times.

And while I’m on the subject, please, parents, do not give toddlers and preschoolers digital, screen-based devices with which to occupy themselves. There’s no evidence that these gadgets produce computer geniuses and a growing body of evidence that they interfere with brain development.

Young children need to be engaged in play that is, for the most part, self-directed and open-ended; play that involves gross- and fine-motor skills.

Playing with other children (which strengthens social skills) should be balanced with solitary play (which strengthens imagination and creative thinking).

John Rosemond has authored 14 parenting books, pamphlets and writes a nationally syndicated column on parenting.