The Imaginary Friend

A couple of weeks ago, when my husband was away travelling and I was alone at home with my two year old twins, one of them pointed to an empty space and shrieked gleefully, “Mummy, Bunty!” I looked up half expecting someone with a powdered face hanging from the wall, ready to wave at me. Yes, I watch too many of those scary movies. There was nothing and nobody. I froze. I am not a fan of the supernatural elements. I rushed the kids into the bedroom, locked the door, switched on the lights in the bathroom and opened the door a little, so that light filtered in (so that I could see around the room clearly!). The only thing I refused to do was check if there was someone lurking below the bed. Yes, I know and I am extremely good at recollecting the scariest of scenes at times like this. Even my son turning next to me is enough to cause me jitters and keep me up the whole night.

Alright, where was I? Bunty. Their friend Bunty has made his unseen appearances a lot of times, scaring me. I am cooking a meal and one of them rushes up to me with his sipper, indicating that it needs to be filled with water. Eh? For whom? You guessed it right. Bunty. I wondered if they actually had the divine powers to see the “unseen.” I contemplated talking to their doctor about it. Was this normal?

I tried to figure out the reasons they could be having imaginary friends. Is this not a common trait with single children? With twins, they have each other for company, so where does the question of an imaginary friend arise? I questioned myself, has my starting to work from home robbed them off the attention I used to give them? Was I not being a good parent? I checked the internet for possible causes that could trigger off having an imaginary friend and realized that this is a perfectly normal behaviour for a toddler. With the numerous articles I read, I would like to share some thoughts on the same.

Your toddler is just very creative!

Yes, your toddler is perfectly normal! They probably have an extremely creative mind to create such wonderful fiction around them. It has been observed that most of the times, single children (or your first born) have imaginary friends, because they do not have anyone else for company. Other reason could be because you have relocated to a new place and your little one does not have friends as yet. It is a phase. And they will pass it.

Use their Imaginary friend to your benefit

I’ve learnt to use Bunty to suit my needs. When they make a fuss to eat a meal, and I tell them, “Alright! Bunty can eat this then”, they make at least an attempt to eat the food. If your toddler did some mischief and blamed it on the imaginary friend, you should not be losing your temper. Help them clean the mess and let your child know that you do not approve of the mess that has been created. Be gentle with your child, you would not want to upset them.

Three is not a crowd

While playing a game with your child, they want their imaginary friend to join in the game. What do you do? Nothing. Really. Don’t get upset with them when they talk of their imaginary friend. Do not contradict them by telling things like “Oh! I know your friend! There is no one there!” It could hurt them. Do not go overboard either by giving the imaginary high fives in the air with the invisible friend! Your child is just enjoying the company of someone who makes them happy. It’s a common childhood phase and they will outgrow it soon.

Things to keep in mind

As a parent, it is normal for you be sometimes disturbed by the presence of this imaginary friend. Here are some pointers that you could think of while trying to get your unfriend the imaginary friend:

• Spend time with them. Most of the times, the imaginary friend has surfaced because of the lack of attention you have given them. Spending time with them will make them feel wanted and loved.
• Do activities together. Involve them in activities that will keep them occupied. It may help them forget their friend for a while. Go to a park, watch a favourite show together.
• Avoid punishing your child for having an imaginary friend. A punishment could make them retreat into their shell and not interact with you.
• If you have just had another baby, chances are that your older child is feeling unwanted because of the lesser attention that is being doled out to him. In such a case, he may have a “friend”; he wants to share things with. It is a phase. Your child will get over it.

Help your children meet other children of their age so that they can have friends. Enrol them in a day care or playgroup, they will also get to interact and learn new things which will keep them occupied. They key to getting rid of the imaginary friend is to spending quality time with them and keeping them occupied.

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