Everyone who’s seen the M. Night Shyamalan film, The Sixth Sense, is familiar with the scene in which the young boy (Haley Joel Osment) shares his secret with his “psychologist” (Bruce Willis). As viewers, we’re shocked to learn he sees dead people, and his therapist immediately begins searching for psychological explanations for his affliction. Is he delusional? Suffering from paranoid schizophrenia?

Kids have incredibly active imaginations, so when they come to us talking about their imaginary friends or the ghosts they see in their bedroom, we often laugh it off and praise them for having such a creative mind. Psychotherapist, Caron Goode, who writes actively about the gift of psychic intuition and has had paranormal experiences of her own, claims one way to determine whether a child’s experience is imagination or something spookier is to gauge their age.

Goode noted, “Generally, children at the age of 2, 3 or 4 aren’t able to distinguish between a ghost or a purely imaginary playmate.” Once children reach age 7, they become fully aware of the difference between apparitions and shadows.

Goode also said your child’s reaction to the incident is another way to tell if the experience is imaginary or something paranormal. Children who have actually seen something, be it a shadow or a manifestation of the paranormal, tend to react by telling their parents. They often appear frightened, whereas children who are playing will generally not show signs of apprehension.

Some kids, according to Goode, are more intuitive and may experience multiple sightings, while other children may only have a one time encounter. Other circumstances must also be taken into consideration, Good said, including your child’s diet, mental and physical health and stress levels.

Goode says her research is an endeavor to help children face their fears. Not wanting them to go to bed scared, Goode believes that in helping parents understand the nature of what their children are facing, it can empower them so they grow up less afraid of their environment and the world around them.

As a mother and a lover of the unknown, I always took my own child’s claims very seriously. I talked to her about my personal beliefs and explained that not everyone believed in those things, allowing her to make her own choices and conclusions about the experiences she had.