Figments as friends

Meet and greet children's imaginary buddies; they're not so bad

Meet and greet children's imaginary buddies; they're not so bad

August 13, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

MARLOWE, W.Va. - McKenna Menedis stables her horse in her preschool classroom. She keeps her boyfriend in her playroom closet.

"Country" the Spanish-speaking horse and "Jay" the boyfriend are figments of 3-year-old McKenna's active imagination. But these imaginary friends provide endless hours of entertainment to McKenna - and her family.

"She gets a lot of enjoyment out of them," said McKenna's mom, Mindi Menedis of Marlowe, W.Va. "We laugh so hard when she starts telling us stories about her friends. She is so animated and oh so serious. It brightens our day when she starts talking about them. She's so vibrant."

Imaginary friends are common among kids in McKenna's age group, said Armin Brott of Oakland, Calif., host of the "Positive Parenting" weekly radio program. Brott - with a Web site at - has written or co-authored six books about fatherhood. His "A Dad's Guide to the Toddler Years" (Abbeville Press, 1999) addresses the subject of imaginary friends.


More than half of all toddlers - children ages 2 to 4 - have fictional companions, Brott said.

"It's a very normal sort of thing," he said. "Sometimes it's just somebody to have a tea party with on a rainy day, or sometimes it's just a convenient excuse."

Katie Rickerds of Knoxville, Md., said she carries her make-believe Dalmatian, "Pongo," in her pocket when she travels to her aunt Dot Himes' store.

"He always helps me eat my snow cone she always gives me," said Katie, who is entering fifth grade at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. "Imaginary friends are very nice. Everyone should have one."

Mindi Menedis said McKenna - the next to youngest of her four children and the only child with imaginary friends - first mentioned Country a few months ago after she told her father he should buy her a horse because she's been a good girl. The requests stopped after Country appeared, Menedis said.

McKenna described Country as green, "really big tall," with a long mane and tale. He prefers to eat Trix cereal, lies down so she can mount him and enjoys watching cartoons - especially "Rugrats."

"I thought Country was a really good imaginary friend," her mother said. "But when Jay came, that was a little more frightening."

Jay made his first appearance in June while McKenna, her mother and older sister Julayne were fixing their hair.

"'Guess what Julayne. My boyfriend got shot at school yesterday!'" Menedis recalled her daughter saying. "After my initial shock and the thought that maybe I watch too much news or CNN, I had to turn away to laugh. She went on to tell us how a man shot him and he was in the hospital. In the next few days we heard daily about his recuperation."

Jay - whom McKenna depicted as her age, funny, smart and red-eyed - is usually too busy to join the family for dinner. McKenna often takes him his meals.

"He likes to ride Country with me," she said. "He likes to play with toys."

Imaginary friends, real benefits

Stimulating creativity and imagination during pretend play is an important function of imaginary friends, Brott said. Imaginary companions also can:

  • act as a child's trusted confidant.

  • help kids figure out the difference between right and wrong.

  • give parents valuable insights into their child's feelings.

Four-year-old Alexis Fischer's imaginary superhero cucumber friend "Larry Boy" - based upon a character from the "Veggie Tales" Christian cartoon series - often comes to the youngster's rescue, said Alexis' mom, Allison Fisher of Hagerstown.

"Larry Boy usually shows up when she's upset," Fischer said. "He's there to help her out because somebody's hurt her feelings."

Alexis' other imaginary friend, "Julia," first showed up about a year ago when it was time to get rid of Alexis' booster seat. The child said the seat should stay because Julia was sitting in it. Julia doesn't come around as often as she used to, but "she still pops up every once in a while," Fischer said. "She sometimes sits at the dinner table with us. I have to set a plate for her."

Brott said that children younger than age 4 generally have trouble separating reality from fiction. But by the time children reach school age, those distinctions should be fairly clear - and imaginary friends clearly imaginary.

"In most cases it's nothing to worry about," Brott said. "If you have an imaginary friend at 14, you've got something to worry about."

My shadow did it

Four-year-old Jordyn Feigley's imaginary pal "Gooey" - a 2-inch-tall female something without hair and eyes - sometimes sleeps in a Tupperware lid covered with a washcloth atop Jordyn's bookcase, said her mom, Krista Feigley of Greencastle, Pa. Jordyn sometimes buckles a seat belt for Gooey, and the youngster recently partnered her mother with Gooey for an amusement park ride

"She's very real to her," Feigley said. "She goes to restaurants with us. But of course we don't know it until we sit down and Jordyn yells, 'You're sitting on Gooey!'"

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