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Milestones in Child Development - Meet My Imaginary Friend

Today I found my child talking to the air. He also insisted that I make a sandwich for his imaginary friend, Dougie. Between the ages of three and a half to five and a half, most kids have an imaginary friend. This is one of the normal milestones in child development and is nothing to worry about. Age three is when children begin to really verbalize what is going on around them, and having someone to talk to is a normal part of his or her development. The child can have discussions, playtime, and even work out problems "all by themselves" if they have an imaginary friend to bounce their ideas off of and more importantly, someone with whom to interact.

In this pre-kindergarten stage, parenting the preschooler means getting them ready for the social interaction of public school, where they will make physical friends and learn to develop interpersonal relationships. Think of the imaginary friend as a precursor to having a real best friend. When your child asks for an extra sandwich for Dougie, he is learning to share and take other peoples needs into consideration. When Dougie gets into trouble, the child is testing boundaries. (Locking Dougie in the closet is one of the examples of bad parenting.) Didn't you have a friend that the rest of the family couldn't see? I'll bet you did, or you know someone who did, and you turned out okay, didn't you? (The answer to this is yes, because you are the kind of parent who cares enough about their child to even wonder if you should be concerned.)

You can use the imaginary friend to your advantage. If your child is upset and doesn't want to talk, maybe Dougie will tell you what's wrong. Don't be surprised if Dougie doesn't like the new baby in the house, even if your child does. Dougie is just re- finding his position in the family. You see what I mean? Children are little people who don't know a lot of things. They are exactly like us. They have trouble articulating their needs and showing their emotions-sound familiar? An imaginary friend helps them practice for the physical people they will encounter later in life and are one of the important milestones in child development. So make Dougie a sandwich and get to know him. Besides, who are you to say he's not real?