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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

My two-year-old daughter developed an imaginary friend after her older brother started preschool. Should I worry?

Q;  My 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son are quite close. In fact, they spent every waking moment together until he recently started preschool. Shortly after, I noticed that my toddler would often talk to an imaginary friend. She does this even when her brother is home. How long will this last, and should I be concerned?

A; It's clear that your children enjoy a wonderfully close and loving relationship. Nice job! With such a bond between them, it's probably no surprise to you that any change in this special relationship is likely to be distressing for your toddler. Your daughter probably doesn't fully understand what has happened—why her brother is suddenly not around as much.  She has found a coping mechanism to help her deal with her loss—a quite creative and adaptive one at that. She has invented a new "friend" to take her brother's place, someone who is always available to her.

Imaginary friends are quite common in childhood and can last into the first years of grade school. There's no need to worry unless you see that your daughter's pretend friend is interfering in her development; for example, if she wants to spend most of her time with her imaginary friend or is so preoccupied with her make-believe pal that she is not connecting with family, building real relationships with friends, or engaging in play and exploration as she used to. There's also no need to be concerned if your daughter still occasionally plays with her imaginary friends, even when her brother is home—she's simply entertaining herself.

 
This question first appeared in the "Your Baby's Behavior" column American Baby magazine.

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