Many people think children’s unseen companions are mere fantasies of their imaginations. Some children claim imaginary friends don’t always obey them, annoy them, are disruptive and/or don’t leave when told to.
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Imaginary playmates can be so real that there are children who believe they exist, while others say their friends are just “pretendsies;” however some children have imaginary friends who are ghosts.
Imaginary Playmates: University of Oregon Study
According to “Imaginary Friends: UO Researchers Study the World of Children’s Pretend Playmates,” by Laurie Notaro in The Register-Guard, University of Oregon researchers discovered 64% of children have an imaginary friend by the time they’re seven-years-old.
There’s an Imagination Lab where links between imaginary playmates and the parts they play in cognitive and social development are studied.
Children’s experiences vary. Some children have a different pretend friend every week; others have the same one for years. There are children who interact and talk to their friends and those who only write about them. Research evidences that imaginary friends have a positive effect on children who have them.
Imaginary Playmates: University of Berkeley Study
It’s normal and healthy for children to have imaginary pals, according to Marjorie Taylor and Alison b. Shawber, who wrote “With Friends like These,” Greater Good, in spring, 2008. The authors’ research included observing children playing in their lab, separate interviews with children and parents, comparing their responses and follow-up consultations.
Creating imaginary playmates is a frequent activity in early childhood and most playmates are supportive, pleasant, loving, and enjoyable additions to families; however some are liars, troublesome and unpleasant.
There’s no distinctive type of imaginary friends that can include ghostly children, adults and animals, space aliens, heroes, monsters and angels. The results of this study agree with the Oregon one – that imaginary friends have positive effects.
Imaginary Playmates: Intelligent Ghosts
The Oregon and Berkeley studies are interesting; however, they don’t specifically address ghosts, the popular collective generic term for spectral phenomena, per se.
Apparitions are intelligent ghosts who can be seen, heard, felt by touch, smelled, tasted and sensed. They interact with humans, especially children. These ghosts can appear to experients while they are awake, asleep or in altered states of consciousness and can materialize at any age up until the time they died.
Imaginary Playmate: A True Case of a Ghostly Friend
According to Hattie Bennett’s Friend – Ghost? Imagination?: Illinois Ghostly Playmate was Witnessed by Many in 1870. There was no formal investigation and the identity of the ghost child was unknown; however there’s evidence the entity existed. The ghost was mischievous.
People heard her disembodied voice, sometimes, barely audible; other times, loud and clear. At times, the ghost talked to visitors; other times, only to Hattie.
Many witnesses saw and heard the spectral playmate, including Father Zabel, a Catholic priest, a St. Louis newspaper reporter who was so shaken by what he experienced that he could only write an incoherent story for his editors to review and East St. Louis Mayor Colonel Jarrolt, accompanied by a group of businessmen. The ghost played tricks on and communicated with the official, his associates and others.
Children and Apparitions
Children tend to see these ghosts more than adults do. It’s believed the reason is that they’re more open to believing that ghosts exist and they’re innocents who have no fear of things they don’t understand.
Apparitions have intelligence and can communicate with humans. They appear to seek children for the aforementioned reasons. Some children who have spoken to dead relatives they’ve never met and, when shown a picture, correctly identify the person.
Entities are described as adult ghosts, deceased family members, deceased siblings, including stillborns, people who lived in homes or neighborhoods where the children dwell, deceased family pets, animal spirits, guardian spirits and angels.
Is the Child’s Imaginary Playmate a Ghost?
Imaginary friends are similar to ghostly playmates. It’s up to caretakers to notice the differences, so they will be able to help children and answer questions. According to theory, children’s spirits may seek a living child as a companion because they feel comfortable with them.
Children can describe the entities mannerisms, attire and, in some cases, where they came from and/or how they died. Sometimes the ghosts leave when a child gets older, finds other interests or the family moves away. There are times that they never leave, even if the child may or may not need them any longer.
How to Deal With Children’s Ghostly Playmates
Communicate with the child. Ask questions. A child’s ability to see and communicate with ghostly pals indicates psychic abilities that they may block which causes distress for them.
Some parents might feel it necessary to take their child to a mental health professional, hoping that whatever it is that afflicts their child can be treated because it’s possible the child has a psychiatric disorder involving hallucinations. Some medications stop them, but when the meds are stopped, they return.
Don’t tell children it’s their imaginations because many adults don’t always see what other people and children perceive. Don’t show fear of something that’s harmless fun and offers friendship to children, which could lead into fear, stress and nightmares for them or to react with negative emotions since children might retreat into themselves and feel like they’re going “crazy.”
Be aware of the spectral playmate’s negative effects on children in any way, such as scaring and annoying them, unexplained physical marks on children, which is extremely rare, and unexplained behavioral changes.
Get help, which can be difficult to find. There are mental health professionals who recognize that there are ghostly playmates and know how to deal with them. You can contact the Parapsychology Foundation, www.parapsychology.org/, American Society for Psychical Research, www.aspr.com/ or the Rhine Research Center, www.rhine.org/, for help.
An Aborted Ghostly Playmate Investigation
Names have been changed for confidentiality. The incident happened about five years ago. I had joined a ghost hunting organization that I thought was legitimate. Hal, group leader, had talked to a woman whose five-year-old child, Benjamin, had a ghostly playmate. There was enough information to do an investigation. Hal and I were the only team members who could perform it. The night was cold and still and the snow on the sidewalks had turned to ice.
The house was a narrow row home. The only equipment we had were tape recorders. There was no need for equipment other than a tape recorder to record the interview because other apparatus would have frightened the child. We interviewed Benjamin’s mother and another relative who had witnessed the boy talking to his ghostly playmate. The conversations were pleasant.
While we talked, I noticed two ghost catchers, hung in the archway between the kitchen and living room, stirring, although there was no draft or breeze. Wind chimes were the ghost catchers because they will move when there’s a presence in a place that has no breeze. Hal and I decided there would be more investigations. T
his never happened. There was no follow up either. From the information we were given and the ghost catchers’ reactions, I believe Benjamin’s playmate was a ghost and remain disappointed and angry Hal dropped the case like it was a clichéd hot potato. I still think of Benjamin and his family and believe they are handling the ghostly playmate properly.
I have no way to contact the family because Hal didn’t gibe me the required information. I resigned from the organization because of this experience and others that proved to me that the organization wasn’t what it claimed it was.
Ghostly Imaginary Playmates: Afterwards
These entities can be handled in a variety of ways. How people deal with ghostly friends depends on their beliefs, knowledge and experiences. If entities cause discomfort, there’s nothing wrong with expelling them. If children’s ghostly playmates create no harm and they’re happy with their friend, why not let it be?
Author: Jill Stefko; Sources: The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Facts on File, Inc., 1992.; ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists, Loyd Auerbach, Warner Books, 1986.; Haunted Heartland, Michael Norman & Beth Scott, Tor, 1985.