Q: Should I be concerned if my child has an "imaginary friend"?
Jim: According to Dr. Bill Maier, imaginary friends are a completely normal part of life for preschoolers. Parents shouldn't be concerned about them unless a child is so focused on the relationship with the "friend" that he or she seems to be losing touch with reality. And, of course, you should never allow your child to blame their imaginary friend for their own misbehavior. In time, the imaginary friend should disappear.
Danny Huerta, a staff counselor at Focus, gives an illustration: "If kids have been made fun of, a lot of times they'll create a superhero that has powers that will help them feel protected -- maybe a stuffed animal that can be ferocious, like the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes.' Hobbes is an example of an imaginary friend 'coming to life' and the fun a child can have with that."
Research shows that an only or first child may be more likely to invent an imaginary friend, and language skills may develop sooner for children who talk with an imaginary friend. Although children should not be discouraged to invent imaginary friends, make sure your child is playing with other children and not existing completely in a pretend world.
Interacting with your child about their imaginary friend can lead to some great teachable moments and opportunities to address specific situations that may have prompted them to invent their pretend companion. Dr. Maier says: "You don't have to go so far as setting a place at the table for your child's imaginary acquaintance, but playing along can be fun for both of you."
Q: My son is heading to college next month. I'm worried about the challenges he'll face -- challenges to his faith and his moral values, not to mention the practical challenges of living on his own for the first time. How can I "let go"?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President of Family Ministries: Your love for your son is touching and inspiring. At the same time, it's important for you to remember that leaving the nest, going off to college, establishing independence, and learning to deal with the demands of daily life are all normal rites of passage for a young adult. It's OK to mourn this change of season. A certain degree of sadness and bittersweet emotion are normal. But don't look at the situation as if you're "losing" your son. You're simply letting go of the joys and responsibilities of parenting him under your roof.
Your son has reached a place in his personal development where he must assume increasing responsibility for his own actions. It's up to him to decide how he's going to respond to the challenges he'll face at college. This is the moment for which you've been preparing him ever since you brought him home from the hospital. At some point, he has to pass beyond your control and discover what it means to be accountable to himself and to God.
The most important message you can send your son as he goes off to college is, "I believe in you. You have what it takes to be successful!" A boy needs to hear this from his parents. Then, show him through your behaviors that you believe in him. Don't jump in too quickly to give advice. Allow him to fail. Don't call to remind him to study, and so on.
Your relationship with your son will never again be the way it was when he was younger. But this process of letting go -- of "giving him wings" -- can actually result in a deeper, more enriching relationship going forward.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.