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Childhood Imaginary Friends

by Kylie Holmes(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 113 - July 2005

The Unseen Playmate

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.
Nobody heard him, and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he's sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.
He lies in the laurels, he runs on the grass,
He sings when you tinkle the musical glass;
Whene'er you are happy and cannot tell why,
The Friend of the Children is sure to be by!
He loves to be little, he hates to be big,
'T is he that inhabits the caves that you dig;
'T is he when you play with your soldiers of tin
That sides with the Frenchmen and never can win.
'T is he, when at night you go off to your bed,
Bids you go to sleep and not trouble your head;
For wherever they're lying, in cupboard or shelf,
'T is he will take care of your playthings himself!

Next time you are in the company of a three year-old child, just watch. Suppose the child is holding a small cardboard box in their hand: at one moment the child will be talking to you, the next they will be rushing off to play because Aggis has arrived. The excitement draws you in but you see no one around; the three year-old that you are watching is full of excitement as you learn that their great mischievous friend Aggis has arrived and a game of trains and planes with a cardboard box takes place.

The three year-old child is suddenly transformed from our physical world into their magical imaginary world where Aggis comes from. The child, like others that I have interviewed, takes you innocently into the world of where imaginary friends come from, or is the child having their first spiritual connection with the universe and beyond?

Imagination can be a child's best friend or worst enemy. From imaginary playmates to scary nighttime monsters, the world of pretend is a very important and real part of growing up.

What is Imagination?

The word comes from the Latin imago, meaning picture. Imagination is, in general, the power or process of producing mental images and ideas. But in children imagination encourages creativity, focuses the mind, and increases concentration throughout their lives.

Imagination is a hugely powerful tool for learning for children of all ages and encompasses a wide range of activities. Imagination gives children the freedom to follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way and for their own reasons. They can explore the world around them and make meaning out of it for their own lives.

How would Life be without Imagination?

Life would lack poignant drama without the use of imagination and we probably would not have the courage to follow our dreams and desires. Without imagination we would be condemned to live a purely instinctive life. We would still be deficient in social compassion and empathy. We would have no thought of the great beyond and never contemplate our existence.

Without this there would be no pyramids, no Stonehenge, no cars, no airplanes or people looking for new ways to tackle Cancer, HIV and AIDS.

Imagination is a truly wonderful thing to have, it is truly inner power, and all great thinkers, artists, healers and inventors have relied on the Power of Imagination to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

The earliest time in our lives when we have used imagination is in our childhoods. When the stairs that carry us to bed is now our space rocket to Mars in search of alien life along the way "to boldly go where no child has gone before".

I was introduced to my eldest daughter's imaginary friend, Sammy, five years ago, when I picked Jade up from nursery and she announced that he was her brother and he was going to live with us and sleep under her bed.

"The man who has no imagination has no wings."
– Muhammad Ali

How many of us as parents are guilty of telling their children that their imaginary friend is not real, maybe not realizing that not only is that friend real but possibly a ghost? A Guide or even a deceased Grandparent?

Do you ever wonder if any of those bad dreams, those images seen in the night, those imaginary friends, may actually be ghosts that, for whatever reason, have shown themselves to a child?

When we tell our children it was just a bad dream, are we accidentally teaching them to mistrust what they may have actually been seeing? Some parents unknowingly start to teach and train their children at a very young age to block these images. This is carried out because of protection and misunderstanding of the situation. How many parents have tucked their little ones back into bed with the words that they thought were reassuring: "there are no such things as ghosts", "you just had a bad dream", "it wasn't real", "it was just your imagination"?

Research that I have carried out over the last seven years has led to me to the belief that children, unlike adults, have not had many years to adjust their thinking and so have not had the time to train themselves as to what to accept or not accept as reality. As adults we can programme our thinking and consequently dismiss certain images, noises and feelings simply because, in our minds, we cannot accept the impossible.

The existence of ghosts has been debated for centuries. The question that is always on everyone's lips is why some can see them and yet others cannot? There have been numerous theories, both for and against this, but I have no doubt that our children do really see and sense what many adults either cannot or will not see?

Could this be why some people are able to accept the concept of ghosts with an open mind and yet others cannot? Does the door get shut in childhood or can it remain open?

Experts have a variety of different reasons why children create their imaginary friends and it usually depends on the child's needs.

Some experts I have spoken to declare that it prevents loneliness or it boosts creativity. Intelligent, creative children who have vivid imaginations very often have imaginary friends. They are born out of a child's increasing ability to engage in imaginative play, and also their ability to separate from adults. It also eases anxieties for children as they can project their own likes and worries on to their imaginary friend.

The imaginary friend allows the child to test the boundaries of their world by breaking the rules and placing the blame on their invisible friend. They also are not likely to have an older child talk them out of what they want to do.

Imaginary friends can do the impossible, often with special powers, and allow them to behave in ways that are not acceptable to any adult. Children use this to test new feelings and practise skills such as persuasion and compromise that will be used later on.

Their new friend may enable your child to feel more in control of their life. They also serve a purpose when a child may feel particularly vulnerable, such as after a birth of a new sibling or even a house/school move. A child that spends a lot of time with adults and older children who take charge, may enjoy being in a position of authority and will be able to 'boss around' their friend.

The child's imaginary friends typically have names and complete personalities with detailed rules for their behaviour and vivid physical characteristics. The child will play highly imaginative games with their imaginary friend. Her/his imagination may lead to the development of fears, such as the dark/noises/animals, etc. They are part of a child's developing conscience and value system. They are usually harmless, and can be an emotional outlet, conscience protector or alter ego. They may even take up space in a child's bed and you'll be warned not to sit on them. These pretend pals can take the form of a child, adult, dog or another animal. Grace, aged six, talked about her friend and explained "she does not like pizza, because she does not like cheese".

Most children forget their imaginary friends once they have started school and even if they do not, the friend does not usually go to school with them. Some imaginary friends disappear before a child turns six, but most disappear between their third and fifth birthdays. They are either forgotten, sometimes sent on a distant and permanent trip or 'die' in a horrible accident.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world"
– Albert Einstein

A Few Stories to Share

When Robert Adams was a small boy he recalls having a dream about a small girl, and after that turned her into an imaginary friend. Robert went around telling his friends that he had an invisible friend! Robert remembers getting very upset when his mother did not believe him, but some of the kids seemed to believe him.

Rachel Ashcroft's imaginary friends were three little dragons – one red, one green and one purple. Rachel explained that the purple one was the pest and she always had to 'clean up after it'. Her mum managed to persuade her not to bring them shopping with us by saying that the No Dogs sign meant No Dragons as well.

Peter Hill recalls his two childhood imaginary friends both looked like Jerry from Tom and Jerry. One was Diggy, who was red, and the other was Gog, who was blue. Gog was responsible for anything that was broken/eaten/ruined and Diggy would always tell him off. Diggy was also there to back up Peter when telling his parents that Gog had done everything. Peter believed that his parents could see Gog but blamed Peter anyway.

You can learn a lot about your child, especially the stresses they are feeling, and the developmental skills that they are trying to master, by paying attention to how and when their imaginary companions appear. The occurrence of imaginary companions and fantasy play show you that the child is beginning to think abstractly. This is a remarkable event.

By this stage children have learned to replace physical objects with mental images of those objects. This means that a three year-old can get a feeling of security by thinking about a favourite teddy bear, as well as by holding the bear itself. The abstract image or concept stands in for the physical object.

Infants and toddlers tend to be afraid of such things as a growling dog or a thunderstorm and things that are actually there at that moment. These are known as concrete fears. They also begin to show different fears. They talk about ghosts in the cupboard, monsters under the bed, or burglars breaking into their room. These are called abstract fears, things they are frightened of that don't have to be there at the time.

Psychologists believe that from a developmental perspective, a child's fear of monsters under the bed is actually a reason for celebration. It tells you that the child is struggling to master the intricacies of abstract thinking.

It also explains why using a concrete approach to the fear, such as suggesting that the two of you check under the bed or in the closet for monsters or ghosts, doesn't work. Your child will simply reply that the monsters are hiding and will come out later. He's right of course, since his fears reside in his head, not in his room.

Although based on a stage play, Harvey, starring James Stewart, is an all-time classic. This film was made in 1950 and was one of Stewart's most popular roles. He played a wealthy, batty, bibulous Elwood P Dowd, who strikes up a close friendship with an invisible six-foot rabbit who resides in the hero's imagination.

In the film Stewart is an alcoholic whose sunny disposition and drunken antics are tolerated by most of the citizens of his community, until Elwood's snooty socialite sister Veta, determined to marry off her daughter Myrtle to a respectable man, begins to plot to keep his lunacy from interfering. His sister wishes to have him certified to Chumleys Rest Sanitarium. This does happen but they let Elwood out and lock her up instead.

James Stewart steals the show. His natural performance and overflowing good nature makes it impossible not to like him. Harvey is a film both kids and adults will love.

Princess Margaret is said to have used her imaginary friend to avoid blame. Whenever her nanny confronted her, Princess Margaret would place the blame on 'Cousin Halifax'.

Robert Louis Stevenson, born November 13, 1850 in Edinburgh Scotland, and the only son of respectable middle-class parents, also had imaginary friends. Because he suffered chronic health problems throughout his childhood, he spent much of his youth bedridden.

To amuse himself whilst in bed, he created his own world of friends and playmates. They were a real and essential part of his loneliness and he wrapped himself in fantasy as a child.

As an adult, Stevenson's interest in children's imaginations, and his own memories of his invalid childhood, may have been stimulated by the success of his adventures in the mid 1880s; feeding his fertile and vivid imagination to create great books of high adventure and heroism such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, which are still very popular today.

Stevenson was a very bright and gifted storyteller, and one of the many books and poems he wrote was called A Child's Garden of Verses. Here is an extract of the wonderful poem The Unseen Playmate.

Imagination is truly important for all of us, whether young or old. Without it we are truly non-existent and with it we are truly exceptional beings. With just a little imagination our dreams can really come true.


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About Kylie Holmes

Kylie Holmes is married to Eric and has three children; Jade (seven), Amba (five) and Baby Leo (six months old). Kylie runs Courses, Lectures and Workshops on Working with Angels, Energy Healing and Meditation and is an Intuitive Angel Therapist, Transpersonal Therapist and Counsellor.Kylie's other passion is writing fairy and angel stories for her two girls. If you have a story about children's imaginary friends, for her forthcoming book, you can contact her on Tel: 0870 780 8413;;

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