You may have noticed that your three-year-old talks to herself. That’s perfectly normal at this age because her world of play is full of fantasy. Her ability to use her imagination in a variety of innovative ways takes oﬀ at a rapid rate during this year.
Watch your child closely while she plays (though make sure she doesn’t realise you are looking at her) – chances are you’ll discover that she becomes very animated and she starts to talk as though she is in a conversation with someone else – except she’s the only one there.
You might even hear her bark out orders, or ask questions, and then stare into space as she waits for a response.
Don’t be alarmed by this behaviour. Your preschooler knows that this episode is based on fantasy, and she understands the diﬀerence between what goes on inside her head and the real world outside.
If you ask her: “Is there really someone there that you are talking to?”, she’ll look at you as though you are the one with a problem!
But it’s best not to probe like that. After all, she’s engaging in a bit of harmless play and your anxious questions might deter her from playing this way again in the future.
My (imaginary) friend
Sometimes, a child uses her fantasy skills to create an imaginary friend, someone (though it could be an animal, not a person) who is so vivid in her mind that she behaves as though the “friend” is actually real.
For instance, she might very politely ask her friend what she wants for a snack. Yet your little one knows her imaginary playmate does not exist, despite this apparent conversation. Perhaps the imaginary friend is best understood as living in that halfway house between reality and fantasy.
Research shows that a boy’s invisible pal is usually more competent and talented than the boy himself, whereas a girl’s fantasy friend is generally less competent.
Don’t panic – she’s engaging in a bit of harmless play and your anxious questions might deter her from playing this way again.
When a child does have an imaginary companion, it often appears less than once a day. The imaginary friend disappears as quickly as she arrives, without any pomp or ceremony, typically when a child is around the age of six or seven.