So the first time you heard your child having a conversation with herself, you may have been a little freaked out (remember The Shining?). But having an imaginary friend is perfectly normal, experts say. In fact, it may even have some serious benefits—both social and cognitive. Here are five benefits of imaginary friends for your kid.
1. They Might Develop a Better Vocabulary
Even though all that chitchat with Sprinkles the Unicorn sounds nonsensical to your ears, it could actually be improving your kid’s conversational skills. That’s according to researchers at La Trobe University in Australia, who found that children with imaginary friends use more complex sentences and have a richer vocabulary than those without a pretend companion. The reason being because your little one is basically getting more practice communicating (even if it’s with, well, a unicorn).
2. They’ll Always Have Someone to Play With
Of course you love playing with your little munchkin, but you don’t always have the time or the energy. Your daughter’s imaginary friend Lizzie, on the other hand, is usually game. But there’s no reason why you can’t join in the fun whenever you want—next time Lizzie’s around, see if she wants to help clean up the playroom (hey, it’s worth a shot).
3. Your Child May Have Better Social Skills
Although an imaginary friend isn’t real, the interaction between your toddler and his make-believe pal is. And the more practice your kid gets with something, the better he’ll be at it (see earlier point about vocabulary). A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology confirmed this, suggesting that imaginary friendships help children with real relationships later on in life. Another bonus? Because these pretend social situations allow your kid to enact a two-way discussion, it might help him better understand the emotions of another person.
4. …And Become More Confident
It’s easier to stand up for yourself when you’ve got a friend by your side (imaginary or not). Plus, unless your kid’s pretend pal is a bossy pants, the experience could help her practice making decisions and being a leader (“come on Betty, we’re playing with dolls today!”).
5. They Might Be More Creative
La Trobe University also found that kids with imaginary friends are highly inventive. No surprises there—it takes a lot of creativity to dream up a flying, walking, talking, superpower-wielding dolphin by the name of Peanuts. Named as such because he doesn’t eat peanuts (obviously). And according to developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor, this creativity is likely to stick with your child long after Peanuts is gone. "Imagination is not just a frivolous thing you outgrow," she explains.