Are imaginary friends real to kids?

I didn’t have one as a kid, but a lot of people have fond memories of them, so I’m sure they’re someone who can answer this… Do kids believe that their imaginary friend/animal is a real, living being? Someone that can be seen and touched? If not, how do they know they’re there, and why do they get upset when their parents don’t see them?

Mine wasn’t. At some point when I was around three, I picked up from my Mom that I was supposed to have an imaginary friend, so I played along for a bit. She even named him for me (Leify).

From Discovery Health:

Of course, things are different if it involves a 6 foot tall pooka with long ears and a bow tie …

Well, I knew my imaginary Siamese twin was real because I could see her in the mirrors at my ballet class. They were set at an angle to each other, so if you stood in the right place you could see your reflection with two heads or three legs. Thus Karen was born.

As far as I can remember, I knew she wasn’t “really” real, since I never heard her talk or saw her outside of the mirror, but I wanted a twin sister so badly that I didn’t care.

I don’t remember getting upset with my parents because they didn’t acknowledge Karen’s existence; I think it was pretty much a non-issue.

When I was a kid I couldn’t really see my imaginary friends and knew that they wern’t the same as tangible people. But I’ve since read that a few kids really do see them. A book about hallucinations called “Fire on the Brain” (I forget the author) had a chapter about it. The kids were otherwise sane, but percieved their imaginary friends (including a flock of chicks, a “pet cloud” and a baby Jesus) as real. They really saw/heard these things and made excuses for why others couldn’t.
He focussed in depth with a young teenage girl who still talked and interacted with her lifelong friend (a fat blue dragon named Chopsticks). The girl knew that other people couldn’t percieve/interact with him, but grew defensive at the suggestion that he wasn’t real. The researcher studied the girl, both with interviews and private observation. She only talked to Chopsticks when no one else was around, and answered for him (“I sort of help him talk”, she admitted.) She did outgrow him, and he was gone by her sixteenth birthday.

In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Brain, a book which is far more interesting than its title might suggest, psychologist Julian Jaynes describes how a student of his, newly married, discovered than his wife routinely had conversations with her dead grandmother while doing housework. No, she didn’t imagine she was “real”; Jaynes makes the point that such imaginary friend behavior is rather commoner than is often thought, and is not limited to children.

I have read that highly imaginative children who have particularly isolated childhoods often find in later life that their imaginary friends sometimes figure vividly in their real memories. That is, a man might look back to his seventh birthday and recall distinctly where his imaginary friend was seated at the table, while knowing all the while that he wasn’t real.

It is also said that otherwise rational adults, placed in isolated and extremely stressful situations, will sometimes get to pretending they have a companion with them. For instance, a mountain climber on a solo ascent might catch himself saving some of his rations for “the other guy”, only to have to remind himself that there is no other guy.

Some years ago I read a discussion of the phantom hitchhiker phenomenon. Unlike most other popular urban legends, there are no shortage of people who will come forward to say that they have actually had the experience, that they really picked up a person by the side of the road who later vanished from their moving car. Noting phenomena of the kind described above, the author (sorry: I don’t have a cite handy), suggested that some stories might be explained as a sort of imaginary friend phenomenon. Driving along the highway at night, a lonely person might get into a deep revery about how it would be pleasant to have a companion. Later they might be confused that the person they “remember” is no longer there.

I’ve never had an imaginary friend.

I did, however, have an imaginary enemy.

I’ve always been grateful for that.
Helped prepared me for the vast legions of real enemies I’ve had in life. :wink: :smiley:

My daughter’s imaginary friend was a very small giraffe called Chunther who lived down the plughole in the bath; she would talk about his plans and what was his favourite colour, what he liked to eat and so on. Since he never came out of the plughole, her imagination was never challenged with the task of making him visibly solid, I’m not sure how real she considered him but it looked like she was utterly convinced of his reality.

My first brother had an imaginary dog and cat for a while, probably because he didn’t have one in reality. At least once he insisted that the car door be opened again so that they could get in before we left.

Then once, he tried it again, but we were late, and my mom said, “They’re in.” We drove off.

Of course my imaginary friend was real. She was Little LuLu, and she lived behind the couch. If she wasn’t real, why were there so many comic books about her?

I had an imaginary friend who always played with the kid across the street.
Steven Wright

Reading recent posts reminded me of something which happened to an old friend of mine.

She went through an especially dark passage in her life and attempted suicide. She was living in Germany at the time, where her husband was serving in the U.S. Army, and she ended up in a local mental facility.

She and some of the other women in the facility decided it would be nice to have a puppy, so, as a joke, they started to pretend they had one. They made a bed for it in a box and set water out for it.

A cleaning woman who worked on their floor realized it was all play acting, and used to joke along with them, asking how the puppy was. A couple of their doctors, however, became terribly excited, and were convinced that the women were collectively hallucinating the existence of a dog. They must have been terribly crestfallen when they leanred there wasn’t the makings of a book in this after all.

A couple of years back at Thanksgiving the NPR show This American Life did a feature on a family which invariably refers to any fowl they serve as “fish”. This is so that they will not upset “Ducky”. This is a hand puppet one of the family’s children was given for Christmas when she was (IIRC) ten. Now both daughters are in their thirties, and they, and their mother, still keep up the enjoyable pretense that Ducky is real. He gave a brief interview on the show.

Another thought: the way in which people can become engrossed in memories of people they used to know can act much the same as an imaginary friend. This is a point J. D. Salinger seemed to be making in his story Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.

JKB: could that book be **Fire ** in the Brain by Ronald K. Siegal? It looks to be pretty interesting and I am going to be on the lookout for it.

Young children are still sorting out the various forms of reality.

Mom and Dad? Real.

Cousin Mary? You’ve met her but she’s not here now. Pretty much real.

Uncle Fred? Lives in another state. You’ve never seen him but people tell you he’s real. Maybe real.

Grandpa? Mom says he lives in heaven. Sorta real.

Spongebob Squarepants? See and hear him on TV everyday. Which is more than Uncle Fred or Grampa can claim. Obviously real.

The Monster Under The Bed? Hear him at night. Unfortunately very real.

So an imaginary friend is more real than some people and less real than others.

Sounds like my little girl who’s been promised a pet rabbit for her next birthday and is happy “because the rabbit will be friends for the cat and dog” who live in the garden, they’ve always lived there apparently, my wife and I have never seen them but the li’l 'un swears they’re really there.

I’m gonna hijack for a second. Are imaginary friends limited to only children? I never had one growing up, but then again I was the youngest of 5 children. There were 6 other people (including ma and daddy) in the house to play with when I got bored. I can’t imagine growing up in a large family and still having imaginary friends.

I suspect it’s more of a lonely than only issue. I myself was an only until I was six, but I lived in a neighborhood full of kids, so I didn’t need anyone to play with or talk to that wasn’t already there. There are probably families in which kids with siblings don’t really get to play with them, so…just a wag mind you.

Probably. I don’t remember the exact title- checked it out a few years back at the library. It’s a fascinating book.

Well I wasn’t suggesting that all only children have imaginary friends. It’s just that I really don’t see a kid with 6 other people running around having one. But you’re right, lonely probably is a better word. I suppose it is possible for someone with siblings to still feel alone and for an only child to constantly have company. So I guess my question was if children create imaginary friends out of a lack of real friends? Do kids with a lot of siblings and/or friends still have them? I guess the answer is yes?

Grrr. Clicked submit too soon. Yes to the first question, no to the second.