Imaginary friends

Why your child's imaginary friend might disappear only to return

Q: Sprinkles, my six-year-old’s imaginary friend, has been with us for more than four years. About six months ago, my son realized Sprinkles had left him and he was distraught. Eventually he got over it, but today he whispered in my ear that Sprinkles is back. At what age do imaginary friends leave a child and should I do anything about this?

A: It is quite normal to have an imaginary friend at your son’s age — so you don’t really need to do anything. These relationships usually end sometime during primary school. Imaginary friends can be important in developing a healthy imagination and are more common in first-born and only children. You might find that Sprinkles disappears for good in a couple more years, or at least that your son will stop telling you about him.

You are right to wonder if there could be something up with Sprinkles’ departure and recent return. Consider whether someone important in your son’s life was lost around the time Sprinkles disappeared. Sometimes fantasies about imaginary friends mirror real-life events the child is trying to manage. Perhaps Sprinkles’ revival suggests a wish for the return of someone close. Alternatively, maybe your son is trying to deal with increased stress right now and needed to bring Sprinkles back to help him cope.