Children’s imaginary friends are often very friendly, fun and entertaining and also available to help children cope with boredom, loneliness, feeling unhappy and difficult situations.

These are the findings of Dr Karen Majors from Barking and Dagenham Community Educational Psychology Service who presents at the Division of Educational and Child Psychology annual conference on the 13 January 2011, at the Hilton Hotel, Newcastle Gateshead.

The research explored characteristics and purposes served by imaginary friends by carrying out interviews with two groups of children: five children aged 5-10 years old; and three girls aged 11 years old. The children were interviewed about their feelings and experiences with their imaginary friends.

On the whole the imaginary friends had many positive characteristics. However, imaginary friends who sometimes demonstrated unfriendly qualities were usually serving a purpose for the child such as a way to show their own unhappy feelings and anger.

They met the children’s needs in a variety of ways, such as an always available playmate, a friend who was always there and willing to listen, providing amusement and fun, someone to help them when they were scared and to help them deal with difficult emotions and uncomfortable feelings. As the children got older they were much more likely to hide them from others.

Dr Majors said: “Some parents are concerned when they hear their child chattering away to an invisible companion but this research shows this is mostly just a normal part of healthy child development. The children recognised their imaginary friends weren’t real but they still felt they were important and special.”

Listen to Dr Majors on the Radio 4 Today programme chatting with children’s author Lauren Child about the benefits of imaginary friends for children here.

If you are a parent of a child with imaginary friends, or if you are an adult who can remember your imaginary friends, and would like to participate, please email for a questionnaire.

View the full conference programme online.

Source: The British Psychological Society