Just when we need a bit more proof that we don’t need to schedule our child’s every waking minute—or that daydreaming is not a sign of boredom, here comes this study from researchers Dr. Evan Kidd and his colleagues at the University of Manchester. The team compared children aged between four and six years, with and without imaginary friends. The conclusion: children who engage in imaginary play or have imaginary friends are much more likely to develop empathy and sustain attention.
Through intuitive and creative role playing, young children and their imaginary friends are learning to resolve conflicts and solve problems. This study is welcome relief for the many mothers of one who worry that their “only child” will suffer from all sorts of emotional deficits.
The ability to roam around in one’s mind and find it a friendly place serves us well in later life. When we turn every thing off, we need to be able to be good company for ourselves. Children can learn this life skill young if they are given some precious time to be alone.
So, if your child has cautioned you to “be careful,” do it. Don’t step on Alice. Even when Alice is nowhere to be seen, tread lightly. Otherwise, you tread on their dreams. As we set a place for Elijah at the table on Passover, your child may set one for Henry or Henrietta. Let them. You never know what part of themselves they are inviting to supper.
Photo credit: Maciej Chojnacki