Friday, November 5, 2010

My Kid Has "Friends".

At least I know where she gets it...

From some random child psychology study:

Approximately thirty percent of American children between the ages of three and six develop an imaginary companion.
In many cases this fantasy friend is thought of as real by the child, so real in fact that a child will often accommodate for the companion’s physical presence, sleeping on only one side of the bed, for example, so the friend can have room to lie down.
Many children even believe they can see and hear their imaginary playmate while they converse with them.

My kid does not have an imaginary friend.  My kid has an entire troop of them.  Lila has always been a social kid.  She loves to be the center of attention, loves the sound of her own voice (which I believe is why she never shuts up) and is always most pleasant when she is around other children.

Up until a couple of months ago, Lila hated to play alone.  She would beg and cry and throw things when we were trying to do other things and apparently she got the idea that we just had other things to do because suddenly she just stopped doing it.  One day, I was doing dishes and when I turned off the water I heard her talking.  I thought she was just sort of reciting her inner thoughts to no one but then I realized that she was carrying on a conversation, acting like someone was answering her and she was responding.  Not wanting to disturb this precious quiet time, I just stood still and listened.

"Now Max, you and Ruby need to go over here and sit down.  We're going to have tea as soon as Toot and Puddle get here...Yes, that is them at the door, will  you please let them in?...Oh thank you.  You look very beautiful too." 

My kid probably watches too much TV.  But she plays with Max and Ruby and Toot and Puddle (and Caillou and Leo and Clementine and Xavier...and all of Caillou's 16 or so friends) all the time now.  She picks them up and puts them in her purse to bring them to Grandma's.  She makes me set out little paper plates for them when I give her dinner.  She accuses me of sitting on them (which she finds completely traumatizing) and feels the need to open and close the front door 8 times in a row to let each of them in (This last thing was cute in the summer...not so much now that it's freezing outside). 

But cartoon characters are not the only "friends" she plays with.  Since she started school the number of pretend friends has grown into an assembly.  She has pretend versions of the kids at preschool and the two little girls she plays with at my mother's house.  She now plays with anyone she's ever seen on TV, including Tom and Jerry,  Hannah Montana, and Stephen Colbert (I think he's somebody's dad or something).

Occasionally I have seen her get angry at her pretend friends for not coloring on the paper when they are supposed to be coloring together.  She gets upset with them when they want to play a different game than she does.  She tells them to quiet down because Mom and Dad are talking.  She yells at them, fights with them, shares with them and begs me to let them spend the night.  Basically, in all respects, she acts like they are real, living people. 

This terrifies me.  Although I know that it's totally normal to have an imaginary friend, a posse of them is a little much.  Do you know how long it takes to wash everybody's hands in one bathroom sink?  Or get everyone strapped into the car?  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to NOT get pissed and say "NO.  THEY'RE NOT REALLY HERE AND YOU CANNOT GIVE EACH OF THEM A SEPARATE BATH/ PLATE/ COOKIE/ BOOK/ SHIRT!!!"  I have tried to say, "tell your friends they have to play by themselves so that you can come and have dinner," which is responded to with tears and pleas of "But Ruby's hungry too!"

Her preschool teacher assures me that she's seen before and that it's actually a good sign that she is learning to work out her difficulties, fears, and concerns in a safe way that doesn't hurt anyone's feelings.  And I agree.  I hear her practicing her pleases and thank-you's and excuse me's and yelling and pouting and telling them to "GO HOME THEN!"  And I don't interrupt.  Except to occasionally let her know it's time to eat.

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