Some babies won't do anything without their toy, blanket, stuffed animal, or bottle. So what gives an ordinary object such extraordinary power? According to experts, it's not about the item itself. It's about your child's particular stage of development.
Between the ages of 6 months and 1 year, babies begin to enjoy the freedom that their increasing mobility brings, says Heidi E. Murkoff, coauthor of the What to Expect series. At the same time, they start to experience separation anxiety over this newfound independence, so they begin to crave comfort. Babies in this age range are also beginning to realize that they are individuals separate from their parents. In an effort to ease these anxieties, many children try to bridge the gap by latching on to transitional items -- "comfort objects" or "loveys," such as stuffed animals or blankets. This love affair often lasts through toddlerhood.
Don't worry that your child might be too attached; such attachments are not a sign of unhealthy insecurity. In fact, they're often a sign of a strong bond between parent and child, notes George Askew, MD, a pediatrician at Zero to Three, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the healthy development of infants and toddlers. A child who seeks comfort with a security object is often one whose need for love and attention has been met consistently by his parents.
Not only are these objects a sign of healthy development, but they serve a valuable purpose. Comfort items are helpful in any situation where a child feels anxiety or stress, says Irwin H. Berkowitz, MD, a clinical associate professor at New York Medical College. When your child is separated from you -- at day care, or for that first sleepover at Grandma's, for example -- it allows him to take along a little piece of home that reminds him of Mommy or Daddy.
Loveys also help children navigate new experiences and role-play stressful situations. For example, going to the doctor isn't so scary if you have your teddy bear to keep you company and the doctor listens to his heart first, says Dr. Berkowitz.
Even though your child's new best friend can't talk, he, she, or it can pose some interesting dilemmas. Find the best ways to cope with your baby's attachment to this fuzzy family member.
1. Choose safe toys. It's impossible to predict which toy or blanket your baby will latch on to, so make sure his toys aren't choking hazards. Pick playthings that are free of ribbons, buttons, and small plastic parts. Stuffed toys should be filled with cotton or acrylic batting, not beans or plastic beads.
2. Prepare for it to get lost. One drawback to your child's affinity for a particular blanket or toy is the ever-present risk that she'll lose the object -- and you'll have to face the tearful consequences. As soon as your child shows an attachment to a toy or blanket, it's wise to buy an identical spare. Just be sure to switch them off from time to time. Otherwise they won't smell or feel the same, and your child will know the difference right away.
Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, loveys sometimes go missing in action. But before you rush to the store for a duplicate, feel out your child. He'll let you know if he wants a new bunny, or if a toy he already owns will fill the void. If your toddler decides that he wants a replacement, let him choose it.
3. Set limits. If your child drags her comfort object everywhere you go, you may want to establish some parameters. "Say to her, 'We play with Bunny at home, at bedtime, and on special occasions like when we stay at Grandma's, not at the store or on play dates.'" But if your child becomes inconsolable, let it go. According to Dr. Askew, it's important not to deprive her of the comfort she needs. If she wants to tote her lovey to preschool, get a small version of the toy or cut off a piece of the blanket.
4. Don't worry. If you're concerned that your child will be toting his teddy to college, relax. For a variety of reasons, most children usually choose to give up these objects by themselves," says Murkoff. By age 4 or 5, children have been in a wide variety of social situations, such as birthday parties and play dates. For the most part they have a much easier time making transitions than they did earlier and simply don't need the added comfort.
Another factor is social pressure from peers. If your child's playmates aren't toting their loveys around, he'll probably follow suit," says Dr. Askew. Doing what all the other big kids do is very important to preschoolers.
But whatever you do, don't push your child to give it up. Putting that kind of stress on your child may actually make him more attached to his lovey. Ultimately, it's best to wait until he's ready to give up his lovey on his own.
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