What They Don't Tell You About Your Kids' 'Imaginary' Friends

by Sarah Jusko
Two kids playing covered with blankets over their head representing kids' imaginary friends
Sarah Jusko

In nursing school I took a child psychology class where they spent a good 15 minutes teaching us about children and imaginary friends. I vividly remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck as the instructor described children having full-fledged conversations and play-sessions with their “friends.”

All I honestly got out of it was: This can’t be normal. Have none of you seen The Shining, Amityville, Poltergeist, Children of the gawd damn Corn?!? Did the 80’s not happen to you? Enough with the psycho-bullshit. There needs to be an exorcism immediately.

So, the other day, our delicate, blue-eyed, bouncy, almost-5 year-old daughter and I were home alone when she informed me (via a faint secretive whisper — cupped hand and all):

“I have two friends… in my room.”

It took every bit of will power to not grab her football-style, light a match, and drop it as I ran us out.

We’re going to need an old priest and a young priest.

Once, I heard an interview with Stephen King in which a journalist asked him where he got the ideas for his horror-filled novels. His response was: “I have the brain of an 8-year-old… in a jar on my desk.” Now, I don’t know if this is true or not, but the deadpan way in which he said it was the very way the “I have two friends… in my room” news was delivered to me.

Me: Ummmm, okay. Are they here now?

Bea: Yes.

Me: Can you see them?

Bea: Yes.

Me: Can I see them?

Bea: NO!

Me: WHY?

Bea: They don’t want you to know they are here yet.

My pupils dilated. Serious as hell. My irises ached they dilated so big.

After some interrogation-style questioning, I learned that, most importantly, they are nice. They don’t ask her to do things (like kill her parents in their sleep, or disembowel a pet). One looks like a balloon, the other a rainbow (I must add this info was all obtained through the aforementioned cupped-hand-whisper so at first I thought she had said, “One HAS a balloon” and again was reaching for the matches). And finally, they only come to her at night, when her fan is on.

Awwwww, okay. Now I think I know what’s going on. The fan is moving the curtains and allowing light from the street lamps in — I got this.

After a few Google searches, and a consult with Freud himself, I was assured that this is completely normal and actually the age in which “imaginary friends” start to come about. The American Psychological Association (APA) assures me that this is an actual good thing and sign of a creative mind, that I should nurture an open dialogue about her “friends” without playing into actually seeing them (or letting her know the mere thought of them is fundamentally terryifying the hell out of me).

So, with this new found knowledge, I successfully make it through the rest of the week without contacting the Catholic Church.

Fast forward to yesterday morning when I’m jolted awake by the ever-so-awesome kid-one-inch-away-from-your-face technique as she whispered: “They want to meet you now.”

I jumped. Partly because I was in a dead sleep, but mostly this shit has seriously got me on edge.

Me: What!?! Who?!?

Bea: (sigh) My friends!

Me: Now?!? Right now?

Bea: Yup.

As we’re walking down the hall it dawns on me, I need a debriefing. We pause outside her door.

Me: Are they in there now?

Bea: They should be.

Me: Are they in a good mood?

Bea: I think so.

You “think” so? WTH?!?

Me: Should I talk to them?

Bea: I dunno.

This is futile. She’s giving me nothing. I’m just going to have to go in… And I didn’t even bring a pin to pop the f*cking balloon if it gets rowdy.

Me: Alright, let’s do this.

So we walk in. It’s dark. I’m squinting to see if there’s some scrunched up, nefarious creature in the corner rocking back and forth or something but can’t really see so I flip on the light.

Bea: NO!!!!!!!!!

Me: What?!?!?

Bea: The lights have to be off or they won’t come.

Of course.

Bea: And the door has to be shut too.


Bea: Now sit on the floor… there.

I’m sure these are similar instructions given by terroists to their captives, but it’s my kid so I go with it.

After 6.2 seconds…

Bea: They’re gone.

Me: What?!? Really? Did I do something wrong?

Bea: No, they just had to leave.

So, there we have it. I was stood up by an imaginary balloon and rainbow, at 6:15 on a Saturday morning. What. Has. My. Life. Come. To.

The good news? The APA says that imaginary friends rarely last longer than 3 years at which time new “friends” may appear. So just when I get used to these two divas who can’t wait the 30 seconds it takes for me to throw on a robe and collect myself at the ass-crack of dawn, I’m going to have to deal with a new crew? For the love of God.

If you’re interested in more info about kids and their imaginary friends, try here.