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Where the Imaginary Ends and the Dark Begins; Children and their Unseen Friends

By Robin M. Strom Mackey

If you’ve ever been around a small child you’ll probably recall that they chatter all the time. They chatter to their toys, they chatter to their parents, they make strange noises over and over and over again. It’s necessary to language development of course, though it may drive you crazy after awhile! But when and if they start chattering to a friend that only they can see, a parent may start to become uncomfortable.

There are some theories to suggest that children are more open to paranormal experiences than their often more cynical parents. Some believe that children may be more telepathically astute. The mere fact that they haven’t been told that there is no such thing as telepathy might make them more open to the experiencing of it.

They may also be more telepathically attune because of their dependence on their parents. The mere survival of a youngster is contingent on the adult caregiver, and thus a telepathic bond with a parent evolves, which may dissipate as the child develops skills and becomes more independent.

It is believed that telepathy is stronger in the young, dimming with age. This has been suggested in the study of psychokinesis or poltergeists cases, where the human conduit is usually an adolescent or young adult, an age when the mix of swirling hormones and adolescent angst help spur their already innate abilities. Along those same lines of thinking, does being telepathically more attune also make children more susceptible to spirit communication? The fact that many children have wonderfully active imaginations creates another problem. As a parent one begins to wonder, where does the imaginary end and the dark begin?

In an email recently I received an inquiry that intrigued me. Lindsey wrote:

I have resided in my home for a little over a year now. I have a two-year old [daughter] and a one-year old [son]. Since we have moved here my daughter has acted a little off. Since she has grown older she is now carrying on conversations with something only she can see….

Two weeks ago it [my emphasis] gained a name - Jesse. No one we know or interact with has this name. One of my brothers is named Jesse, but he does not even live in Delaware, and she has never had a relationship with him.” His name rarely comes up, so it’s odd that she just randomly started saying that name.

“I have asked her who Jesse is and where he/she is, and within seconds of me acknowledging its [my emphasis] name my dog started growling at something, which has never happened before. My dog does not have a mean bone in her body.” She growls only at strangers, and usually only at male strangers.

My son who is one has now started pointing at things that I believe they see, and I do not. Toys will go off; singing in their bedroom when no one is in there. It doesn't seem to be anything violent, but it is becoming more frequent.

And as any mother would be I am getting a little worried about the intentions of whatever this spirit may want. I'm just wondering if you have any advice as to how I can maybe make a connection of this name with someone who may have lived here in the past or what steps I could take to do so. The property has been in my family as a rental house for a long time. However my grandmother does not believe in the paranormal.” She is not open to listening to me or helping in any way (used with permission).

My first question was, would a child of two be too young to have developed an imaginary friend? Consulting child development experts suggests that it was young, but not impossible. According to one source, typically children develop such friends from three to eight years of age. Yet another source suggested that children are becoming conscious beings, alert to their own identity, from the time that they can recognize themselves in a mirror. Further, from the first time onward that a child makes a Choo Choo noise while playing with a toy train, or holds a doll and babbles out dialogue it can be assumed that the child has now developed the ability at abstract play (Turgeon, 2009).

Without any further background knowledge or an investigation into the property I wrote Lindsey back suggesting she could consider the situation in two ways, believer or skeptic:

1. Skeptic: From a skeptic's point of view we might assume that your daughter has an active imagination and has created a friend for herself. We may have only heard you mention your brother Jessie in a telephone call. Or maybe she heard the name on a TV program. Perhaps she seized onto the name because she liked it. I remember doing the same when I was a little girl. I had the names of my sons picked out by the time I was five. Maybe she's created her make-believe friend because she's lonely? In which case maybe some play dates with other kids could be tried, something that would let her socialize with kids her own age more and creating fictional friends less.

My son when he was younger had a lot of electronic toys. I found they would often start by themselves in his closet, especially when the batteries were low. Try replacing batteries, or taking them out entirely if the toy is not used often.

2. Believer: From the standpoint that you might have an entity trying to speak with her. Again I would suggest that the same thing. Try to get her out of her room more and playing with other kids

I wouldn't forbid her talking about her friend Jessie, but I wouldn't actively encourage the behavior either. In other words, don’t greet her every morning with the words, “what did the ghost say to you last night?” I’ve seen parents do this to children, thereby encouraging their children in the belief that there is a ghost and only they can communicate with it. Or worse yet, in the case of children who are easily frightened, scaring the children by making them believe that there actually is a ghost in the house, and it’s trying to communicate with them despite the fact that they want nothing to do with it.

But I also wouldn't take the hard-core stance that there's “no such thing as ghosts”. This suggests that whatever the child might have experienced is all in their imagination, and worst case scenario might suggest to the child that they may be punished or rebuked for admitting so. It also effectively shuts down the lines of communication. I’ve read accounts by adults who experienced truly frightening phenomena in their houses as children. When they tried to tell their parents they were shunned. In some cases these same children had to endure often terrifying activity in silence. It’s terrible to imagine a child being victimized in this manner, and even worse to imagine them doing so in isolation.

In-home Investigation

On the market now are all types of nifty surveillance cameras and equipment. Many standalone cameras can connect to a smart phone. I would definitely get one that also has audio. I would suggest that you set one up in her room so that you could see and hear what's going on for yourself. That would hopefully give you some piece of mind.

Motion sensor night lights in hallways and public spaces might also help you feel a bit more secure. They are available in both plug-in or battery operated. I've placed them all over my house.

To find out more about a property and its history I would start at a local library or historical society - if you have one in the area. Don't be surprised if you find no mention of a Jessie, however. I think that's simply the name your daughter gave her friend. These things rarely work out that neatly.

Paranormal Hypochondria

A parapsychologist acquaintance admits that with all the attention the paranormal has gotten in the media of late that many of us now have developed what he calls paranormal hypochondria. In every odd situation we now experience we are programmed to read in paranormal. Lost a loved one, the need becomes even greater. I once had a conversation with a woman who wanted me to perform an investigation for her. The conversation started with I lost Dad in 200X and my brother in 200X. She continued, I saw an orb on my surveillance camera and my toddler walked up the stairs and held his arms up asking something that I couldn’t see to pick him up and carry him up the stairs. (First of all, don’t get me started on orbs!) All in all, I told her this was pretty slim pickings in the way of evidence.

The Third Route

Instead of actively encouraging or discouraging, I would try the third route. If the child wants to discuss what they experienced try to calmly and openly listen to her. Listen attentively when she talks to you about her new friend, but don’t bring the subject up with her yourself. That's just giving her the green light that any such imaginings are just fine with you. Young children are very in tune with their parent's opinions and will take their cue from your attitude as to how to feel about the situation. You want to be open to listening and remain calm. Ask questions and try to make no formal pronouncements.

Lyndsey’s Experiment

A client of mine, also named Lyndsey, came up with her own solution to a sticky problem. Lyndsey’s home is quite active. Our team has actually investigated the site three times with another investigation tentatively scheduled for next summer. Every time we investigate Lyndsey’s house we come away with multiple EVP’s, most often by a speaker who seems to be a woman. This corresponds with what Lyndsey has told us. She has confided that she often feels a matronly personality in the home, one that appears to be attached in particular with their very young son. They have a baby monitor in the child’s room and they often hear the little boy communicating with someone or something that they cannot see. And they often detect strange sounds through the monitor. The activity had always been harmonious. However, right after our third investigation in early November I got a disturbing email from Lyndsey.

She said that the activity in the boy’s room had taken a turn for the worse. He had awoken one night screaming that he had seen a ghost, and demanding to be let out of the room. For long nights afterward he insisted on sleeping with them in the master bedroom and refused to enter his own room even during the day. What was she to do? I gave her the same advice that I’ve written about in this article, suggesting she find some way to speak with the boy calmly so as not to scare the absolute bejesus out of the tyke. What she did next I thought was brilliant. She made it into a game.

Using one of the pool soakers – the kind that have the noodle bodies and suck up the water only to shoot it out in a long stream – she told her son that they were going to play ghostbusters. Walking through the house he was to tell her where he had seen ghosts and she would suck them up. He dutifully showed her where he had seen entities and she sucked them up and took care of them. Incidentally, the boy indicated the same spots that we had determined to be active in our investigations.

This activity did a number of things worth noting. First, it pointed out to a concerned mother where her son was seeing apparitions. The fact that it appeared to correspond with her experiences and with investigation results is validating. Second, she took her son seriously neither encouraging him to make things up nor discouraging him from communicating with her. But third, and I think this is the most important, is that it gave mother and son the power back. I’m sure they both felt like they were much more in control after the activity.

Fourth, although some experts in the paranormal community disagree with me, I think Lyndsey’s exercise was a good way to communicate with the spirit. I have always felt that if a spirit is in some way an essence of a deceased human, than they are bound by the same upbringing and courtesies with which we were raised. In other words, you can communicate and attempt to set parameters with an unseen house guest. I think Lyndsey’s game also went a long way toward doing that, indicating to the spirit that she had been seen, that she had overstepped the boundaries by frightening the boy and that such behavior was not acceptable.

It wasn’t immediate, but Lyndsey eventually got the little tyke sleeping in his own room again, and as far as I know, peacefully.

Final Thoughts – Imaginary Friend or Other

Obviously without a lengthy interview and investigation I can’t say, or even speculate, as to whether Lindsey’s daughter is simply a very precocious and imaginative two-year old, or whether something is truly communicating with the child. As I said earlier, it has been theorized that very young children are more open to telepathic communication with the spirit world. They may see spirits because they don't know they shouldn't be able to. The ability decreases with age

This is also an age when children are developing the ability of imaginative play. And this is not something to be discouraged. The same child development sources suggested that imaginative play has some very positive outcomes. Recent studies have indicated that children who developed imaginary friends weren’t, as had been speculated, lonely and isolated children, but highly creative. Those that developed these “friends” were both more creative and socially adept than other children. In language studies such children were found to use complex sentence structures and developed advanced vocabularies. Overall, they were more socially adept at getting along with their classmates. The explanation seems to be that children with a developed imaginary friend got a chance at role playing both sides of a conversation. They developed better abstract thinking skills and were better at creating original ideas. The recently released book, Nurture Shock even cites research that seems to indicate that children who spent extended time in abstract play often demonstrated leaps in school achievement (Turgeon, 2009).


Turgeon, Heather (2009). Imaginary Friends. (A subsidiary of Disney Inc.) Retrieved November, 27, 2016 from

Posted by Robin M. Strom-Mackey at 7:49 AM No comments: Links to this post

Labels: apparition, children and telepathy, children who see ghosts, ghost, ghosts, haunted house, haunted houses, imaginary friend, spirit, spirits

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