In the field of child psychology it is often said that play is the language of children. Perhaps the most important type of play can be said to be pretend play. It is within this delicate interweaving of reality and fantasy, this intermediate space between the inner and external world that the child learns cognitive flexibility and social skills (i.e., trust, perspective taking, problem solving, expression of feelings, self-regulation, empathy, etc.). Nonetheless, children do not only use the world of pretense to practice developmental skills, but they also turn to this rich world for tools that support them in their daily lives. Two factors often associated with the realm of fantasy are imaginary companions and storytelling.
Imaginary companions or, more commonly known, imaginary/pretend friends, can be human, animal, or magical creatures created within the imagination of a child. These creations can be the product of a greatly inventive mind; serve as a safe way to express one’s feelings and experiences; provide an opportunity to take steps beyond our comfort zone through the alliance of a buddy who may possess skills and confidence we may not yet have; be a powerful internal resource for coping with difficult experiences; or simply be a fun, mischievous, and comforting companionship during times of loneliness or play. Regardless of their purpose, imaginary companions serve a unique role and are the healthy aspect of many children’s development. In fact, accumulated studies indicate that children with imaginary companions are less shy and have better social skills (David Lydon, 2011, Imaginary Companions: Are They Good For Children?). Furthermore, evidence show that children may use imaginary friends as a healthy mean to cope with traumatic experiences (David Lydon, 2011).
The next factor linked with imagination is a practice that has forever been part of human history—storytelling. Through verbal narratives people have passed down traditions, accounts of their history, and moral lessons to proceeding generations. Authors have used stories for relief by capturing intense emotions and experiences while listeners/readers have often found themselves through the words and narratives of authors. It should thus not be of surprise that psychotherapist frequently use storytelling (whether it entails encouraging clients to create a story, co-creating stories with clients, or reading/telling clients tales that may relate to clients’ experiences) to permit those in their care to explore, reflect on, and process experiences at a safe distance. Already emerged in the world of make-believe and bed top stories, narrative approaches can speak the natural language of children.