The Child With A Very Special Friend

Do you ever wonder what goes on inside the head of a child? Children have a wonderful and expansive inner world that often leaves us in awe, but it can be hard to understand why children behave in certain ways, which can be especially frustrating and perplexing for caregivers, who only wish to provide the best care for their child.

Faith recently collaborated with NewParents Volume2 -Health Today magazine to write an article about the things that motivate and drive children’s behavior. This illustrative, colorful article will be an educational read for anyone who wishes to understand their child better, and perhaps even enter their inner world.

Children are born without any preconceived notions, biases, and expectations of the world around them. Hence, blessed with their parents’ love and guidance, they explore their surroundings with vivid imagination. This can give rise to some friction with their parents, especially when the child’s vivid imagination and sensitivity can lead to behaviours and interactions that may cause their parents to feel awkward or even embarrassed.

Imaginary friends are actually very common among children. About two-thirds of children have an imaginary buddy. These friends can be a person, an animal, or even an inanimate object—such as a spoon.

A SIGN OF POSITIVE EMOTIONAL AND & PSYCHOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT Back in the 19th century, it was commonly assumed that having imaginary friends would be a sign of emotional instability and psychological problems. Over the last 2 decades, however, it has become clearer that such ‘magical thinking’ is a sign of positive developmental progress. A child develops an imaginary friend to fulfil their innate need for friendship. It is especially common among a firstborn or only child, as it is a way to help relieve loneliness.

SUPPORTING YOUR IMAGINATIVE CHILD When it comes to such a behaviour, your concern shouldn’t be about your child’s imaginary friends. The more pressing concern is whether there is ample guidance from you to help shape how your child sees the world around them. Your child’s imagination can become negative should the environment around them turn hostile, fearful, and threatening. Instead of trying to change your child’s behavior, such as by insisting that the ‘friend’ isn’t real, there is no harm to instead turn the existence of the ‘friend’ to your advantage.

Encourage your child to create positive imaginary friends For example: “Mr Potato is friendly; he likes to share with friends and help Mummy. Mr Potato is kind and helpful.”

Take part in and enjoy your child’s relationship with their invisible friend. Ask questions to find out more about this ‘friend’. You will end up learning more about your child’s interests, wishes, fears, and concerns—as often, the ‘friend’ is a manifestation of these aspects of your child’s developing personality.

When your child is being difficult, try using this ‘friend’ to encourage a desired behaviour in your child. For example: “Hey, look, honey—Mr Bear has eaten all his vegetables!”

WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK THE ADVICE OF A CHILD THERAPIST?

You should do this when your child’s behaviour causes pain at some level, whether it is unhappiness or discomfort. Some red flags to watch out for are:

• Your child keeps acting out via the imaginary friend—this could be an indication of anger and sadness that the child is unable to express directly to you.

• Your child’s social interaction becomes limited to only their imaginary friends, and real-life interactions with you and other people become affected.

• The child’s language development becomes limited because they spend more time interacting with imaginary friends instead of honing their speaking and listening skills with other people.

Many children can develop an emotional attachment to an object, such as a teddy bear, blankie, etc. These soft and cuddly objects are called ‘comfort objects’.

A SOURCE OF COMFORT All of us crave comfort. For young children, the sense of security that stems from their attachment to their caregivers can be a source of comfort. However, a child’s caregiver can’t always be there for them. For example, Mommy may have to cook or go have a shower. To that child, a comfort object then becomes another source for their sense of security.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN YOUR CHILD HAS DEVELOPED AN ATTACHMENT TO A COMFORT OBJECT? First, never tease your child about their attachment to a comfort object.

Instead, establish boundaries with your child. For example, they can carry their favourite blankie around the house, but during family outings, the blankie stays in the car.

Comfort objects can become dirty fast. Hence, you should schedule weekly washing of that object. Your child may need some time to get used to being separated from their comfort object during wash day, so consider keeping them busy with puzzles, building blocks, handicraft, etc.

Children can act up when separated from their beloved comfort object, when the comfort object no longer smells or feels the same after a wash, or—horrors of horrors— the comfort object is damaged or missing. When that happens, keep in mind that your child is not doing this to frustrate or humiliate you.

They are instead expressing their frustration. They may not know the right words or the proper way to express these feelings. Hence, their body takes over.

 In such a situation, always stay calm, and avoid delivering threats or ultimatums.

Instead, view their tantrum calmly and with compassion. Connect to your child by holding them, offer comfort, and distract them until they have calmed down and are ready to listen to you.

Once they have calmed down, tell them: “Tantrums won’t get my attention. If you want to tell me something, you have to use your words.”

Most importantly, always devote plenty of quality time to your kid, and offer plenty of hugs and assurances.

In addition to providing professional counselling, Faith Foo is also an author of motivational books for both adults and children. She weaves her advice through relatable anecdotes, parallels to real life, and metaphors as well as allegories both amusing and poignant. Scan the QR code or visit www.faithfoocounseling. com to find out more.