Imaginary companions described by the children came in a fantastic variety of guises, including invisible boys and girls, a squirrel, a panther, a dog, a seven-inch-tall elephant and a “100-year-old” GI Joe doll.
The researchers also were curious to know why children stop playing with imaginary friends. “Imaginary companions are treated by children much in the same way as when they lose interest in toys or other activities,” said Carlson. “In many cases they simply go away, or children don’t remember. Other times children replace an old imaginary companion with a new one, or they go on to friendships with real kids to meet some of the same needs.”
Imaginary companions have had a bad rap from psychologists for a long time, and there was the perception that parents were getting the message that having an imaginary companion wasn’t healthy,” she said. “But this study shows that nearly two-thirds of children have them and the striking fact is that children of all personality styles have imaginary companions.”