Imaginary Playmates or Not?
Updated: Feb 20
Research shows that as many as 50% of children have an imaginary friend, also referred to as pretend, invisible, or made-up friend. An imaginary friend is someone/something a child can talk to, interact with, and play with. “Invisible” companions may be a person, a toy, stuffed animal, or fantastical being.
Yet, what if a child’s imaginary friend isn’t imaginary?
A tall, beautiful, and loving being began visiting me when I was two. Her name was Leilani-a Native American name meaning heavenly blossoms or royal child. Leilani was a bit of a tongue-twister for a two year old. Thus, I called her “Luli.” She had long, gleaming black hair, parted in the middle. Luli always appeared in a long skirt, with a shirt or tunic, and adorned with heavily beaded necklaces and bracelets .
While I was playing alone, Luli would frequently appear in my room. We would sit on opposite side of my arts and crafts/play table. I was always impressed that she could fold her endlessly long legs underneath such a small piece of furniture. She was impressive in many ways!
Luli was kind and attentive. We had long, deep, and stimulating conversations. Rather than verbal, our communication was strictly telepathic (communicating with someone mentally, without using words or other physical signals). I never found this method of conversing strange or unusual. I understood everything she said fully and instantaneously. It was the most natural thing in the world to me.
I instinctively knew that Luli was my spirit guide (A non-physical being who guides us on our path and spiritual growth). Our guides are infinitely wise and unconditionally loving. Although I do not remember our conversations in detail, I know they concerned profound concepts such as space-time, the cosmos, and the meaning of existence. What “normal” toddler understands such notions? Yet, at the time, I did-fully so. Certainly, none of this was in the realm of an ordinary imaginary friend’s "conversation".
I wanted to share my remarkable, amazing new “friend.” I told my mother, who replied, “You are making this up. This Luli ‘person’ isn’t real. She’s a pretend friend.” Her final, parting comment was especially invalidating; “If I didn’t remember giving birth to you, I would never think you were mine. You are so different than the rest of the family.”
Had my mother implied I was “crazy”? That stung. Badly. I could not comprehend why my mother did not believe me. Had my mother implied I was crazy? Her insensitive remarks greatly impacted my self-esteem and sense of worth and validation.
The manner in which my mother responded to me was far from ideal. It lacked compassion, understanding, or thinking outside of the box. Here words were hurtful, damaging, and unloving.
I recently read an insightful article by Lisa Miller, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and Author of the NYT Bestseller THE SPIRITUAL CHILD and THE AWAKENED BRAIN.*
Miller explains the most common ways parents turn off their child’s spiritual development, and invalidate his/her experiences:
1. Ignore their spiritual awakening, questions, and experiences. Your voice makes an experience real for your child; if a child doesn't hear a parent discussing a topic, then the child assumes that topic is not important.
2. Disavow their spiritual reality. A definitive, negative statement by you about your child's spiritual experience can shut down your child's exploration because it signals to your child that her spiritual experiences aren't part of the parent-child connection.
3. Discourage spiritual discovery. A negative response to your child's spiritual exploration is a lost opportunity, a moment when you could have, but didn't, support your child's tender, vulnerable, and emerging spirituality. You don't have to agree with your child-you simply need to be interested, curious, and open to his exploration.
4. Quash questions. A child's questioning propels growth. Responding with an "I don't know," or "I don't know and nobody else does, either," often ends the discussion. Your child hears that spirituality isn't worthy of pursuit.
5. Base affection or discipline on performance-based values that don't align with spiritual values of unconditional, non-contingent love, acceptance, and loving guidance.
If only my mother had been open and receptive to my comments. As Lisa states (#3 above) A negative response to your child's spiritual exploration is a lost opportunity, a moment when you could have, but didn't, support your child's tender, vulnerable, and emerging spirituality.
I encourage all parents of children claiming to have a spiritual companion/experience to listen to him/her-with compassion, an open mind, and without judgment. I guarantee it will help your child feel safe, heard, and validated.
*Excerpted from The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving, by Lisa Miller, PhD. Copyright © 2015 by Lisa Miller, St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers.
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