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The Informed Parent

Wild Imagination

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Feb. 10, 2003

When is an imagination too much? Recently a concerned mom brought this aspect of her four-year-old daughter to my attention during a routine well check.

It seems Suzie had begun speaking with and about her “old Mom and Dad”. This included imaginative brothers and sisters as well. When Mom and Suzie went shopping or riding in the car the child would relate incidents or point out places these “other family members” had taken her.

In the beginning Mom would play along with the stories by acting interested and asking questions about them. Now she does not know if this is the correct approach. Might this all lead to taller tales and actual fibbing or lying?

In actuality the imagination of a four-year-old is potent. A child of this age without one would be worrisome. Suzie’s imagination is well developed. As long as her fantasies do not interfere with her ability to stay in contact with reality, one would not need to be concerned. The moment these fantasies force the real world into a secondary role, counseling would need to be pursued.

The best thing this mom could do is ignore the fantasies and redirect the conversation. This must be done in a non-punitive manner, or Suzie will use these episodes to draw a reaction from Mom. In other words, Suzie should feel that Mom is neutral in relation to her fantasies. This will be difficult at first, but they won’t last long.

If Mom continues to play along and act interested, this will only propagate their existence. Suzie will see them as a way to generate interaction with Mom.

Be sure sufficient time is spent with her on a one-to-one basis (solo time). If she is not getting this attention she may have already decided that her imagination is a good way to alter that.

One must elvaluate these time spending areas carefully and then approach her fabrications from a neutral position. The critical feature is the relationship between fantasies and reality. When fantasies become a more influential part of a child’s life than the real world, professional counsel is needed. If it is difficult to evaluate the situation correctly, discuss the matter with the child’s physician. Between the two of you a decision regarding a referral will be much easier.

One must be very careful to remember that imagination is an integral part of the developing child. To squelch it completely is to dampen a necessary facet of childhood. From the imagination of a child develops the dreams and aspirations of an adolescent, and leads to the necessary progressive ideas and projects of adults. This aspect of man is the fuel of progress.

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