"Children need parents who know where they stand as well as where they want their children to stand. "

Amy and her Imaginary Playmates

Q: Our 3-year-old daughter has an imaginary playmate named "Slubby." No kidding. How she came up with the name is anyone's guess. We know that imaginary playmates per se are not a problem, but Caitlin plays almost constantly with Slubby, wants us to set a place at the table for her and even wants us to get a car seat for her so she can go places with us. Is there a place where we should draw the line, and if so, how?

A:This is the age of imaginary playmates with bizarre names. My daughter Amy, when she was 3, invented two playmates named Shinyarinka Sinum and Soppy, with whom she played constantly. They were so real to Amy, I swear I could almost feel their presence at times. As suddenly and quietly as they had shown up, Shinyarinka and Soppy disappeared after about nine months, and we haven't heard from them since. Amy is now a happily married, well-adjusted mother of three. Bottom line: Don't worry about Caitlin's relationship with Slubby, no matter how strange it may seem at times. This, too, will pass.

Not only is there no cause for concern, there is cause to rejoice. In my experience (which is professional as well as personal), children who invent imaginary playmates, compared with children who do not, are more imaginative (naturally), are better able to entertain themselves and develop better verbal skills. The only down side is that the control these kids exercise over their Slubbys and Shinyarinkas often fosters a bossy attitude in real-life social situations. That, too, will work itself out in due time, assuming playmates won't put up with it.

Setting a place for Slubby at the table? Oh, go ahead. Just don't put food on her plate. Pretending to serve her will do. I would draw the line at buying another car seat, however. Simply tell Caitlin that if she wants to take Slubby along on outings, she has to hold her in her lap.

Take it from someone who's been there: You're gonna miss Slubby when she's gone. Enjoy her while you can.

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