The height of the imaginary friend stage was when my Miss K was about two and a half and we had them over for dinner. I got little notice apart from a shouted, "Daddy, my friends are at the door! And they're here for dinner!" We quickly set some more places at the table and rushed to the kitchen door to let them in.
She's three now and the "friends" are still around, though not as much. They often go to playgroup with her, or get mentioned when she doesn't want to go somewhere, or are used as leverage to get more cartoons. For instance: "Nini doesn't want to go to swimming, so I have to stay here with her. Cummy wants to watch more cartoons." You get the idea.
Just yesterday, on our walk to the shops, she shouted out that her friend Cummy was coming along too, in case I hadn't noticed. These days Nini and Cummy are the main companions, but the others haven't been forgotten. Let me see if I can remember the full list (I'm really not sure of some of the spellings so I've taken some creative licence):
- Nini (Cummy's older sister)
- Commel and Pea (Cummy's dad and mum)
- Poo Boo & Pah Bah (not sure what's happened to them)
- Dee Dee
- Cee Cee
- Stinky the Schoolboy (actually that might be a toy she named, but I've included it for humour value)
- My Baby's Daddy (at least I'm hoping he's imaginary)
As well as the imaginary friends she talks almost daily about the baby in her tummy, "just like Mummy's", and more recently a litter of kittens (apparently in her tummy also).
This imaginary stuff has gotten quite creative. Miss K tells us Cummy lives down the road in a bush. But when we built Miss K a playhouse Cummy moved from the bush to the playhouse.
She's also got lots of real friends and she definitely knows the difference. When she's talking about them and we play along, and perhaps take it a bit far, she sometimes interjects with: "They're just my pretend friends."
Last month she wanted us to help her make a list of friends to invite for another dinner party and it included lots of real kids and imaginary ones too - the first time she's mixed the two. Interesting.
When the list of friends began to grow my wife and I were a little concerned about it. Around the same time someone sent us Super Nanny Jo Frost's take on it - and she might be from the telly, but a lot of what she said resonated with us.
To boil it down, she regards it as a natural part of growing up. If your wee darling's a talker (as our Miss K definitely is) talking with the "friends" is a good way, Nanny Jo says, for them to practice their verbal communication skills. They can also use the friends to role-play a situation, which didn't go well for them the first time (such as being pushed by another kid) and come up with a better outcome, or a way to approach it next time. You often get valuable clues about what going on for them - their fears and worries - by listening to them with their "friends".
Miss K also uses them a lot for taking the focus, and in some cases the heat, off herself. Most of the time when she refers to her "friends" she's actually talking about herself. "Cee Cee really, really, REALLY wants to watch the Tinkerbell DVD." Yeah, right.
Often she trots them out if she's nervous, to help her feel more comfortable. Whatever it all means, it's been fascinating to watch.
We treat the "friends" like they're part of the family - well, they might as well be, with the amount of time they spend at our house!