Ask Joanne - Imaginary Friends

13/07/2009 14:14 | Updated 22 May 2015

What's your parenting question or dilemma? Send it in to our life coach Joanne Mallon at this address. Say if you'd like your name changed when we answer your question.

There's been a lot of focus on children's imaginary friends lately, ever since Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's daughter Shiloh was revealed to spend much of her time with her IBF (Imaginary Best Friend). Here's where we discussed whether or not you should be worried if your child has an IBF.

Sue asked in the comments box: What happens when these IBF's do not disappear as kids get older?

Here's life coach Joanne's reply:

Dear Sue

Thanks for posing such an interesting question. My daughter is nine, and for a while her IBF was a little sausage dog called Runalong. She would talk to him and pretend to take him for walks. He seemed to disappear from the scene when we got a real pet, but my daughter assures me that he still exists. She says Runalong is very special to her, as he's her first imaginary friend. As a parent I am absolutely fine with this, I don't see it as a problem at all, though I do draw the line at taking Runalong for walks myself.

And I think the key to this issue is: How do you respond to your child's IBF? If you're not sure, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the IBF stand for in your child's life?

    Children have very vivid imaginations, and they can't always express their feelings verbally, so will do so through play. So conjuring an imaginary friend can be a very useful way for your child to express themselves, just as they would through doing a drawing or making up a song. If you're not sure, participate in the game - ask them what sort of person their IBF is.

  • Does your child have an active social life and enough real life friends?

Some children are more solitary than others and may not need a real life best friend. But do make sure that they spend time with other children - perhaps ask a classmate round for tea if you haven't done so in a while. Some children like IBFs because they can be in control of the relationship, in a way that they won't be with a real person, so it's important to help them develop those social skills.

  • What is it about the IBF, if anything, that bothers you?

  • Is this about something to do with you, and your childhood, or about your child? Aim to get as specific as you can about what it is that bugs you. What is happening that you would prefer to be different? What would you rather be happening instead of this? If your child is perfectly happy with their IBF, maybe you could be too.

    Some food for thought, I hope this is helpful.

    Best wishes


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