A while ago I wrote about my middle daughter’s pre-occupation with monsters in Monsters and Imaginary Friends.
The monsters haven’t gone away. In fact we have more monsters now, her sister has her own monsters that sometimes come out at night to steal her things. There are monsters that come if we can’t leave the big light on in her bedroom. Sometimes there are nice monsters who help people , they are called names like fluffy and softy.
The imaginary friends have also developed to become a permanent fixture in our house. It began with Emily. Emily would regularly come for a sleepover and often it is Emily’s birthday. Emily’s story has become more elaborate, she now has a brother called Jack who often visits too and today we were introduced to a host of pets (3 dogs and 5 cats). In the car a few days ago I was told that Emily’s mum and dad were dead and so she lives with her nanny and grandad.
I love the way that the stories are evolving, it shows how her imagination is developing and that she is beginning to understand the conventions of storytelling. Interestingly she sometimes tells me that Emily is just pretend.
A new study into imaginary friends at the University of Durham cited that children with imaginary friends are usually aware that others can’t see them and it is the child’s behaviour that makes other people aware of their existence. The imaginary friend helps children to know that their knowledge is privileged.
The researchers presented children aged 4 -8 years with cards on which they wrote their own name, mum or dad and their teachers name. They then had 3 boxes, a large one labelled knows a lot, medium sized box labelled knows a little and a small box labelled doesn’t know anything. The children were given questions such as
When you are ill how much does your mum know about you being ill?
When you are ill how much do you know about being ill?
The children with imaginary friends were most likely to describe themselves as having the most knowledge. Having an imaginary friend gives children opportunities for self-examination. The children with imaginary friends saw themselves as an authority on interior aspects of self such as dreaming and on those which adults could judge (illness, hunger and having fun). It could be that imaginary friends help children to understand that their internal world is private. (Davis,Paige, Elizabeth 2011).
If this is the case then how much more is going on in her little head that she decides not to share? A wonderful reason to get 3 year olds to start telling and recording stories.