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September 13, 2013

Imaginary friends are healthy for children

NORMAN — Q: Several months back, our just-turned 3-year-old son invented an imaginary friend whom he calls Larry. We’re worried because he seems involved to the point of being obsessed with him.

He plays with Larry almost constantly, talking to him all the while. When we go somewhere, I have to pretend that Larry is coming along, too. I’ve drawn the line at setting a place at the table for him, explaining to our son that I feed Larry after he’s gone to bed.

When our son is with other children his age, he plays well but has a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward play dates. I’ve heard that some kids this age have imaginary friends, but this seems a bit much. What do you think?

A: I think today’s parents — moms, especially — worry entirely too much about anything that seems to fall even a tad outside the boundaries of normal behavior. That tendency is exacerbated by the fact that as a culture, we seem to have forgotten that children can be odd at times, some more than others. Lots of odd in a child may be cause for concern, but one odd thing rarely merits more than a tolerant shrug.

I’m actually glad to hear that there are still kids out there who possess magnificent imaginations. Before television, video games and other electronic suppressants, imaginary friends were commonplace.

Both of my children had imaginary playmates. Eric had Jackson Jonesberry, and Amy had Shinyarinka Sinum. No kidding. These playmates, who seemed quite real to the kids, occupied lots of their time, which was just fine with their mother and me.

Another factor I think has contributed to the demise of the imaginary playmate is the corresponding increase in parents who play with their children. Some playful interaction between parent and child is fine, of course, but a line can be crossed at which point the child becomes dependent upon the parent for entertainment.

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