The Game: Playing with an Imaginary Friend
Parents may find it a little bizarre that their toddler loves hanging out with invisible buddies, but these pals can actually be healthy for kids. Playing with a make-believe sidekick helps your kid develop the social skills he needs to get along with other children, such as sharing, cooperation, and taking turns. And if you happen to catch him arguing with his faux friend, rest assured that that's a great learning experience too: These battles allow your toddler to practice working through conflicts that commonly come up on playdates, such as fights over toys and what games to play. Invisible pals can also provide moral support, just as a real friend would, says Dr. Bergen. "Your toddler may be better able to deal with unfamiliar or scary situations because he doesn't feel alone."
Your Role: Feel free to acknowledge the pretend friend. If your child wants you to set an extra place at the dinner table, for example, just go with it. And don't worry that he'll lose touch with reality; kids this age do understand that these buddies don't exist. As long as your toddler has friends in the real world, you don't need to be concerned about his imaginary one.