Most younger children have an imaginary friend or two. But my daughter didn’t just have one imaginary friend; she had a whole posse of them. During the stage when she spent the most time with them, I grew concerned, like Circle of Moms member Crystal L. did, that her imaginary friends would become a problem for her socially.
These "shadow friends," as my daughter called them, went everywhere with her, and while they never took up space at the dinner table, they were part of every conversation. This wouldn’t have worried me if she was simply talking to them. But that wasn't the case. When my poor child was with her shadow friends she couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
The shadow friends were clearly bullies. At first, I worried she was seeing things or hearing voices, but before I rushed her to the pediatrician, I listened in on her conversations.
I’d like to say I lurked around the corner to catch her talking to these “shadow friends,” but I really didn’t have to. When she was playing, she’d talk to them openly, and even call them by name.
Hearing their names, I realized these weren’t imaginary bullies at all. At five-years-old, my newly-entered-kindergarten daughter had created imaginary counterparts of her real friends! They had the same names and, apparently, the same personality traits.
“Jenny!,” I’d hear my daughter cry. “I was playing with that! Please give it back.”
“No, we don’t want to play that game,” she’d say. “Why can’t we play what everybody else wants to?”
“Fine, then,” she’d sniff, storming to a different section of the room. “I will find a different friend!”
The more I heard, the more I realized my daughter was acting out real scenarios with her imaginary friends; issues and confrontations that she faced in her daily life. Like Circle of Moms member Suzanne S. says, it was “all part of working out social relationships."
As a mother, I had a decision to make. Did I get in touch with the school or her friend’s parents and tell them that my shy, quiet child was being overpowered by her friends or did I let her work it out her own way?
My training as an early childhood educator overrode my mom instincts as I remembered research by a professor at Yale, Dr. Jerome Singer, that indicated children with imaginary friends get along better with their peers.
I decided to leave her to her own devices for a short time. After all, the shadow friends served as her daily “do-over." Mom Becky S. put it well when she said that imaginary friends help kids to “figure out what to do in certain situations.”
In time, the shadow friends, and presumably their real-life counterparts, began losing esteem in my daughter’s eyes. Soon they stopped talking back to her and the names of new, real friends began popping up in conversation.
I asked my now 15-year-old daughter about her “shadow friends” the other day.
“Who?” she scorned. I explained and told her their names. She shrugged.
“Oh,” she said. “Those are all the popular kids. They’re kinda mean. Not my group of friends.”
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