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Imaginary Friends: The Facts on these Fictitious Characters

I cannot think about imaginary friends without thinking of one of my favorite 90’s movies, Drop Dead Fred. In this particular comedy, a woman imaginary friendenduring a mid-life crisis is visited by her childhood imaginary friend as she copes through the termination of her marriage and the ending of her career. Although this funny flick is geared towards garnering laughs, there is a lot of truth to the plot. Yes, imaginary friends can seem silly and irrational at times but they all serve a purpose. According to an article in Psychology Today entitled “Imaginary Friends, Any in Your House?”, “For some children, imaginary friends assist in a child’s coping with a life change or acquiring a new skill. For others, their pretend friends or creatures are simply fun. Whatever purpose they serve and whatever form they take, fantasy friends indicate a fertile imagination that is as likely to belong to a child with [siblings] as to one without siblings.” Imaginary friends are a functional component of childhood growth and development and are not just indicative of the being an only child.

What Causes A Child To Have An Imaginary Friend?

Any changes that occur during a child’s life may present itself for the emergence of an imaginary friend. For instance, the birth of a new sibling may cause a child to feel less attended to or confused as to what their role is in the family. The companionship of an imaginary friend can provide an age-appropriate outlet to play out the child’s fears or insecurities. This creative medium allows the child to express the feelings and emotions that they may never get a chance to process since they do not have the vocabulary. As the child develops a new identity and gets acclimated to having a younger sibling, the presence of an imaginary friend may or may not dissipate. The creative aspects of play and exploration towards gaining a greater understanding of their environment can lengthen the duration of the imaginary friend.

Should I Be Worried If My Child Has An Imaginary Friend?

Imaginary friends are not to be worried about unless they interfere with your child’s daily functioning. If a child is having trouble interacting with other children, encourage them to incorporate their imaginary friend into their peer group as a tool to transition them into real-life social interactions. Allow your child to decide how much they want you, the parent, to engage in their fantasy play. Imaginary friends are a normal part of childhood development and can provide the voice to address troubling situations that could not be communicated in other ways. So, parents, do not neglect the imaginary friend. Pay attention to the content in which the imaginary friend appears as it can provide clues into the social-emotional world of your child.

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Choosing The Right Friends: Supporting your Child’s Resiliency Against Peer Pressure

The older they get, the more independent they get. For adolescents, the world revolves around the friendship circle. While you can’t choose friends for your children, you can teach them how to choose wisely.  Some parents don’t get involved until it’s too late, when they desperately want their children to stop hanging out with bad influences. This may be accomplished, but the problem may return when the child meets someone similar. It’s more valuable to teach children about what a good friend means, rather than seek control over each individual peer of choice. You can start by asking your children to make a list of qualities that make up a “good friend” and helping them think about it objectively.

teenage friends standing outside

When discussing specific peers in their life, you can use the following questions as a screener:

Good Friend Checklist

  • Are you able to be yourself around them?
  • Do they make you feel good about yourself?
  • Do you have interests and hobbies in common?
  • Do you take turns being leader and follower?
  • Would you stand up for each other?
  • Do they want to help you when you’re upset?
  • Do they listen when you need to talk about your feelings?
  • Do they respect you when you say “no”?
  • Can you work it out together when you have a fight?

If most of the answers are “yes”, the friendship is likely to be a positive one and hopefully boosts self-esteem. If most of the answers are “no”, the friendship could lead to insecurity and poor decision-making and should be re-considered.  The “no” answers can also help identify which skills may need to be taught or strengthened.

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How to Cope with Night Terrors

Night terrors are a sleep problem that is most common in children ages 2-6 (but can occur at almost any age). They occur occasionally in about 15% of young children and can last 5-30 minutes. You may see your child bolted upright in bed, crying or screaming, sometimes appearing to be awake but with no recognition of who you are. Night terrors differ from nightmares in that your child is not likely to remember anything in the morning.child with a night terror

Because night terrors are considered normal, you do not need to seek treatment (as long as you have ruled out any underlying medical or mental health conditions). However, they are often very scary and distressing for both the children and their parents. What you can do, is identify ways to help your child cope with the stress and promote a calming sleep environment. Children who are overtired, experiencing stressful life events, or have a fever may be more likely to have night terrors.

If you catch your child in the middle of a night terror, it is suggested that you do not try to wake them out of it. This could scare them—especially because of your own stressed reaction. It is usually best to make sure they are safe (gently restrain if needed) and wait until it is over. You can provide comfort, speak softly and calmly, and help them return to sleep (in their own bed).

Steps You Can Take to Ease the Stress of Night Terrors:

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Parent Self-Care: How to care for YOU while you care for your child

Some parents feel guilty if they purposefully take time away from their kids to pursue their own interests. On the other hand, turning yourself down from these opportunities may mean you have less and less to give of yourself to your kids. Mothers who make time to pursue relaxing activities and/or favorite hobbies not only feel happier day to day, but their kids feel it too! It has a calming effect on your children and also provides you with more energy to tend to daily tasks. You need time to re-energize from the world’s hardest but most rewarding job! Here are some pointers for getting started. Please add a comment below if you have your own great idea to add!

How To Care For Yourself When You Have Children:happy parents

  • Seek out hobbies that “feed your soul”
  • Revisit your old childhood hobbies and passions
  • Wake up earlier or go to bed later than your family for alone time
  • Take bubble baths or extra long showers
  • Trade massages with your partner (or go professional)
  • Take long walks (alone or with a companion)
  • Call at least one friend per week
  • Organize “Moms only” nights with friends
  • Date night with your partner
  • Eat healthy and exercise
  • Write in a journal
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness

*Kvols, K.J. (1998). Redirecting children’s behavior. Seattle, Washington: Parenting Press, Inc. a

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North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).  Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses.  No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT  to people submitting questions.  Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

8 Tips for Talking to Young Children about Natural Disasters

Natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and tornadoes can be frightening and concerning for adults, so imagine how confusing and scary they can be for young children! When talking to children about natural disasters, there is a fine line between honesty and explaining in an age-appropriate way and going into too much detail that can worry a child.

Here are 8 ways you can approach talking to your young child about natural disasters in a calm way: Natural Disasters Blog

 1. Assess what your child already knows (or doesn’t know).

• When a natural disaster occurs, children are likely to hear about it on television, at school, from friends, or through conversations taking place around them. Before talking to your child, ask questions to help you understand what she already knows. This will help you understand her concerns, questions, feelings and even her misconceptions.

2. Listen to you child’s questions.

  • Children will likely have many questions when a natural disaster occurs. “How does a thunderstorm happen? What happened to the people living in ________? Will it happen to us?” Normalize this curiosity and concern by saying things like “I can understand why you would want to know that. That’s a good question.”
  • After answering, check in with your child to make sure she understood. If your child still does not understand try different, but still concrete, easy-to-understand language, until your child grasps the concept

3. Be proactive.

  • Children will likely have many questions when a natural disaster occurs. “How does a thunderstorm happen? What happened to the people living in ________? Will it happen to us?” Normalize this curiosity and concern by saying things like “I can understand why you would want to know that. That’s a good question.”
  • After answering, check in with your child to make sure she understood. If your child still does not understand try different, but still concrete, easy-to-understand language, until your child grasps the concept

4. Use simple, clear, consistent language.

  • Children will likely have many questions when a natural disaster occurs. “How does a thunderstorm happen? What happened to the people living in ________? Will it happen to us?” Normalize this curiosity and concern by saying things like “I can understand why you would want to know that. That’s a good question.”
  • After answering, check in with your child to make sure she understood. If your child still does not understand try different, but still concrete, easy-to-understand language, until your child grasps the concept

5. Demonstrate calm.

  • Children often pick up on their parents’ feelings. If you seem panicked or anxious, your child is likely to react in similar ways. Model a calm, matter-of-fact demeanor to show your child that your family is safe.
  • If you need support yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends. It can be helpful to have this kind of separate space to discuss your own emotions.

6. Reassure your child to help her feel safe.

  • When young children hear about a natural disaster and see images of destroyed homes, they may worry and wonder, “Will this happen here?” Assure your child that natural disasters are uncommon and that the chance of one occurring where you live is low.
  • Emphasize that natural disasters are no one’s fault, as your child may have anxieties about what could cause a natural disaster.
  • Inform your child of your family’s safety plan in case of a natural disaster. For example: Mommy and Daddy have a plan to keep us safe if there is ever a big tornado. We will all go to _______ in the basement and cover ourselves with a mattress to protect ourselves. Having earthquake/tornado/fire drills once per year can also reassure your child that if a natural disaster were to occur, she would be safe.

7. Be honest.

  • Honesty is key when answering questions. Some parents may want to keep some information from their children to protect them. They might say, for example: “No one died from the tornado” or “A storm like that would never happen here. This risks your child hearing about these details elsewhere. This could confuse your children and lead them to conclude that they cannot trust what you say.
  • If you do not know the answer to a question, do not hesitate to tell your child. You can even look for answers together, which can also help your child feel safe and comforted.

8. Explore your child’s feelings and provide validation and comfort.

  • Children may feel a variety of emotions after a natural disaster, such as fear, confusion, anxiety, guilt, and sadness. Some children may not openly talk about their feelings during this time, but that does not necessarily mean they are not thinking about it. When your child does share her feelings with you, provide empathy, acknowledgment, and validation.
  • In an effort to comfort their child, some parents may inadvertently minimize their child’s feelings by saying things like “You have nothing to be scared of.” A better alternative is to empathize with her feelings first and then offer reassurance. One example is: “I can understand why you would be scared that we might have a big earthquake. I want you to know that there is only a very small chance that an earthquake would happen here. And if something happens, we have a plan to keep us safe.”

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

Social Work

Bullying: How To Know It’s Happening And What To Do About It

Bully Pointing And Laughing At BoyName Calling Just As Harmful as Physical Abuse

We all can probably name the “school bully” (or bullies) from our childhood. Bullying is not a new challenge for children, but it should not be dismissed as simply a part of growing up. Bullying is a serious issue of abuse that can be emotional, verbal, physical, or some combination of the three. All three forms of bullying can be devastating to children. The old adage of “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” is simply not true. The March/April issue of the Journal of Child Development features a study conducted at UCLA that determined verbal abuse happens twice as often as physical abuse and “the students who were beat up and those who were called names were equally bothered.” Today, we have an additional form of bullying: cyber bullying, which, takes bullying to a whole new level. Read more