Research at the Institute of Education in London found that made-up friends enhanced children’s creativity, making them more confident and articulate.
“Imaginative children will create imaginary friends,” said Karen Majors, an educational psychologist who carried out the research. “Companionship is a big part of it. They can be a way of boosting self-confidence.”
Parents should not worry even if their child creates a number of companions, according to Miss Majors, who says it’s a perfectly normal habit.
She added: “Parents sometimes think, ‘Is this healthy and how long should it go on for?’ But it is a normal phenomenon for normal children. And it’s very healthy.”
Victims of bullying may dream up companions for support and to help cope with the stress of their situation. It is also common for such friends to appear when a brother or sister is born.
But in many cases, it is simply wish fulfillment for a child denied a much-wanted pet or other object of desire. “I interviewed one little girl who had a pony called Minty for several years,” said Miss Majors. “Of course Minty did not really exist.”
Researchers have estimated that as many as 65% of children have had an imaginary companion at some point.