IMAGINARY COMPANION

A fictitious person, animal or object created by a child, usually between the ages of two and a half and four and a half, but often persisting for several years. Various studies indicate that between 15 per cent and 30 per cent of children have invisible companions of one kind or another, with girls slightly exceedingboys (Hurlock and Burnstein, 1932; Svendsen, 1934; Ames and Learned, 1946). They usually have names and stable personalities and the child talks and plays with them as if they were real. He may also insist that the whole family recognize their existence: “You can’t sit in that chair, Bosko is there!” Occasionally it is hard to tell whether the creatures in the child’s daydreams are actually imaginary companions or only fictional characters in the stories he makes up. Imaginary companions are considered a normal expression of childhood fantasy. They are found among children with a wide variety of personality traits —both shy and outgoing, aggressive and withdrawn, emotionally stable and emotionally unstable: “We definitely do not find imaginary companions only in timid or lonely children or in those exhibiting personality difficulties” (Ames and Learned). Adults who recall having these companions show the same wide range of personality (Hurlock and Burnstein). The only general feature of note is that bright children are more likely to create them than dull children. They are also likely to construct more elaborate fantasies, such as an entire family who go through various kinds of adventures during a period of weeks or months.Even though all kinds of children have imaginary companions, some studies have shown that they are somewhat more frequent when children are lonely or unsociable, or are having difficulties with family relationships (Bender and Vogel, 1941). In these cases they can furnish valuable clues to the child’s emotional needs. When all imaginary companions are taken together, however, they are found to serve a variety of purposes. They may represent qualities which the child lacks, such as courage and derring-do. They may provide an outlet for feelings of anger or anxiety or even guilt feelings—and sometimes they are used as scapegoats: “Bosko made me do it.” They may be a means of practicing roles and relationships through dramatic make-believe, as little girls do in playing nurse or little boys in pretending they are bus drivers or policemen. And in many cases they may help to meet a need for intimate friendship—someone with whom to share troubles, pleasures, and confidences.Each child uses imaginary companions in his own way to satisfy his own particular needs—and as he develops greater social skills, becomes involved in school activities, and finds other ways to meet his emotional needs, he simply outgrows this stage. Usually they fade gradually away, though sometimes they meet a melodramatic end in an accident or an Indian war. But, hopefully, the child’s capacity to enjoy fantasy and use imagination in work and play will not disappear with them.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "IMAGINARY COMPANION," in PsychologyDictionary.org, November 28, 2018, https://psychologydictionary.org/imaginary-companion/ (accessed October 15, 2019).
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