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Children's play with their imaginary companions: Parent experiences and perceptions of the characteristics of the imaginary companions and purposes served

Majors, K; Baines, E; (2017) Children's play with their imaginary companions: Parent experiences and perceptions of the characteristics of the imaginary companions and purposes served. Educational and Child Psychology , 34 (3) Green open access

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Abstract

Aims: Imaginary companions (ICs) are a common feature of childhood and parents often witness young children’s play with their imaginary friends. This study investigated parent perceptions of ICs and explored associations between reported characteristics of the children and imaginary companions and purposes served. Method: A self-selecting sample of 264 parents of children who had current or previous ICs completed questionnaires. Findings: 60% of children had more than one imaginary companion. Imaginary companions mostly took human form (67%) with 19% taking animal form. Animal ICs were perceived as more important to the child. Imaginary companions served five distinct purposes: problem solving and management of emotion, exploration of ideals, companion for joint fantasy play, companion to overcome loneliness and to allow children to explore behaviour and roles. Parents saw the main purposes of the ICs to be to support fantasy play and a companion to play and have fun with. They also frequently gave examples of how ICs enabled children to process and deal with life events. The majority of parents (88%) did not think there were disadvantages in their child having an imaginary companion. Limitations: The sample is likely to be skewed in terms of age and social status and thus not representative of the overall British population. Information is given on the demographic that are likely to have engaged with the research. Conclusion: The quantitative and qualitative data from parents provide insights and contribute to the understanding of the varied purposes served by children’s imaginary companions.

Type: Article
Title: Children's play with their imaginary companions: Parent experiences and perceptions of the characteristics of the imaginary companions and purposes served
Location: UK
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://shop.bps.org.uk/educational-child-psycholo...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Imaginary companions, imaginary friends, invisible friends, pretend play
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Psychology and Human Development
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10022746
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