10/06/2009 14:50 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Should I Be Worried If My Child Has An Imaginary Friend?

Imaginary friends are in the news right now, and they've even got their own acronym: IBF (Imaginary Best Friend).

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's toddler Shiloh is reported to spend much of her time with her IBF Amy.

The popular children's books and TV series Charlie and Lola feature Lola's IBF Soren Lorenson, who often gets blamed for Lola's mischief.

However, a new report claims that IBFs are actually on the decline, with the number of children claiming to have an IBF having reduced by over 36% in the last 20 years.

An imaginary friend can be a great way for a child to express themselves, so maybe we should all get like the Jolie-Pitts and start exercising our minds more.

The report on IBFs was commissioned by Alton Towers to support the launch of their new play area, Cloud Cuckoo Land. This indoor area is designed to tickle children's imaginations, with rides including Wobble World and Twirling Toadstool.

And another benefit of an imaginary friend is that you don't have to pay to get them into a theme park.

But if you are concerned about that your child is living in their head rather than in the real world, here are ten things you need to know about IBFs:

  1. Don't worry. It's a natural part of growing up, which helps your child solve problems, boost
    their confidence, and develop language skills.

  2. Having an IBF means your child has an active mind, as well as a creative imagination. So look on it as a bonus rather than a worry to fret over.

  3. IBFs are used by children to test boundaries in the real world, and say and do things they may be reluctant to do themselves. So it's a confidence builder.

  4. IBFs make children happy when they have nobody else to play with, or if their parents are busy.

  5. IBFs help children practice conflict resolution and other life skills.

  6. Kids with IBFs have an increased ability to show empathy for others, and are better able to entertain themselves for extended periods.

  7. Kids who engage in aggressive imaginative play are less likely to be aggressive in real life as they are more likely to understand the potential damaging impact of their aggressive behaviour.

  8. Listen to your child's conversations with their IBF. You might be able to get clues about what they are thinking about, and any emotional difficulties they might be experiencing.

  9. An IBF lets your child feel that they are in control, because they call the shots about every aspect of their imaginary friend, from name to hair colour to temperament.

  10. It's really good fun. Get involved in the game, you might just enjoy it too!