Imaginary companions (ICs) are purported to bolster children’s coping and self-competence, but few studies address this claim. We expected having/not having ICs would distinguish children’s coping strategies and competence less than type of companion (i.e., personified object or invisible friend) or quality of child-IC relationship (i.e., egalitarian or hierarchical). We interviewed 72 3- to 6-year-olds and their mothers about children’s coping strategies and competence; teachers rated competence. Mothers reported ICs. IC presence and type did not differentiate coping strategies, but children with egalitarian relationships chose more constructive/prosocial coping strategies, and teachers rated them more socially competent than children with hierarchical child-IC relationships. Mothers related ICs to cognitive competence. Findings highlight (a) modest relations between imaginary relationships and coping/competence, (b) distinctions between mothers’ perceptions and IC functions, and (c) that ICs parallel real relationships in that different dimensions (presence, type/identity, and relationship quality) might be unique contributors to children’s socioemotional development.
Gleason, Tracy, and Kalpidou, Maria. "Imaginary Companions and Young Children's Coping and Competence," Social Development. Nov 2014, Vol. 23 Issue 4, p 820-839. 20p. DOI: 10.1111/sode.12078