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How Do Comfort Objects Help Your Child’s Development?

December 17th, 2020

Do you remember your first baby shower? The anticipation is mounting as your due date is right around the corner. Friends and family break the ice sharing photos and stories of their own. Everyone contributes a gift to help prepare you for the next chapter in your life. You can expect practical strollers, adorable onesies, a mountain of diapers, and of course beautiful pink and blue blankets and plush teddy bears.

Blankets and stuffed animals like these are called transitional objects and they can do more than help young children fall asleep. So, why are plush stuffed animals so essential for a child’s development?

Stuffed Toys and Blankets act as “Transitional Objects”

The term “transitional object” is used by clinical psychologists to refer to any comforting items assigned special value by the young child that give them a sense of security or peace of mind when you are not around. Typically, a transitional object is chosen by your child around one to three years of age and takes the shape of a security blanket, a doll, a pacifier, or any other type of soft stuffed toy. This object has soothing sensory qualities that remind the child of the family, it is a piece of home. Security objects—such as blankets or stuffed bears—are one of the first “not-me” possessions that children develop attachments to.

The transitional object does four main things to help cultivate a strong parent-child bond and foster independence:

  • Communicates your affection.
  • Eases separation anxiety.
  • Aids emotional regulation.
  • Provides the security needed to explore and grow.

It might seem like a hassle to accommodate the needs of this new companion, especially if disaster strikes and Teddy is missing two minutes before you need to be out the door. However, your child’s consideration for their special toy is important. It reflects your own devotion to your child’s needs. In the child’s mind, you wouldn’t forget them at home, so it wouldn’t be right to leave without Teddy. Grown-ups aren’t so different in the ways we ascribe meaning to our own special objects or family keepsakes, especially if they represent our loved ones.

How Your Child’s “Lovey” Can Help Them Transition from Infancy

When you are not around, the stuffed animal acts as a stand-in for you and the loving, non-judgemental safety of the family. The stuffed animal gives your child the security to explore and take small risks. These small risks build your child’s confidence, allowing them to take on the bigger risks and challenges that lead from dependence on you to the healthy independence needed to feel secure and confident in new and unfamiliar situations, like starting school.

The stuffed toy offers comfort and predictability, just like you do, which the child can reciprocate. A child will model care-taking on the stuffed toy during daily activities or during play. Reading aloud with Teddy, nursing Teddy back to health, or making sure Teddy brushes his teeth before getting tucked into bed are just a few examples of this behavior. It’s helpful for you as a parent to see what is sticking with your child.

A child takes on a guiding role and reinforces what they’ve been taught by you on their own little companion. This practice relationship can help a child learn the social skills they need for adolescence. A stuffed animal helps a child feel like they always have a friend in their corner even when mom or dad isn’t around. This feeling of security can help them have the confidence to branch out in new and unfamiliar places, like at daycare or kindergarten.

While there are a lot of benefits of a comfort object, some kids don’t feel the need to place special significance on just one object or security blanket, and that’s okay. Others will want to bring theirs to kindergarten. Don’t worry, both behaviors are normal; children have different ways to learn about and cope with the world around them.