Your 3-year-old: Imaginary friends

Your 3-year-old: Imaginary friends

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Your 3-year-old now

Been asked to set an extra place at dinner for an imaginary friend yet? As many as half of preschoolers have a pretend buddy. These phantoms don't mean your child is lonely or maladjusted. In fact, kids with imaginary friends are more likely to grow up to be creative, cooperative, sociable, independent, and happy.

An imaginary friend can be human or animal and usually comes with a name and distinct personality. Part confidant, part playmate, part protector, and part scapegoat, they help kids practice relationship building and let them be in control for a change. A pretend friend can be a child's way of handling an increasingly demanding, expanding world.

Watching your child's interactions with her imaginary friend can give you useful insights into her fears and stresses. If her imaginary playmate is afraid of monsters under the bed, then your daughter may be, too.

Although it's wise to be respectful of your child's imaginary friend, try not to get involved in the relationship. For example, avoid using imaginary friends as a way to manipulate your child ("Harvey ate his peas, why can't you?"). Instead, follow her lead. She knows deep down this is an imaginary creation, and it can be a bit alarming to her if you buy into it too readily. These extra members of the family usually disappear by age 7, as your child becomes immersed in the very real-life world of school.

Your life now

Having a 3-year-old can make you proud and completely nuts all at the same time. Because your child's verbal skills and physical abilities have expanded so much since her wobbly 2-year-old days, it's easy to fall into the trap of expecting more from her than she can always deliver. Progress is gradual. Although preschoolers sound and look capable of much more now, social and emotional maturity take time to develop – and that means lots of patience on your part. She still has faulty logic and a healthy ego. She thinks the world revolves around her – as it should at this age.

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