Is Bedtime Blanket Sucking Okay?

Q. My 1-year-old has been sucking on his blanket at bedtime for about two months. Is this normal? He was never interested in a pacifier, so why is this behavior so necessary for him now?

A. For young children, going to sleep can be stressful. It means separating from the people they love, which can be scary. Your child's figuring out how to comfort himself to sleep -- this is what he's doing when he sucks on the blanket -- is an important accomplishment. Feeling "I can do for myself" builds a child's self-esteem and sense of security during the wild and wonderful toddler years.

But why does he need this kind of soothing now when he didn't earlier? Think about whether there have been any recent changes in his life. A new sitter or school, or anyone he's missing? Is he on the verge of a major milestone, like walking? Children often experience anxiety about a big developmental step and will regress in other areas. They may become more clingy or awaken during the night.

The reason could also simply be that your son is having some separation anxiety and the blanket has become a substitute for your love and comfort when he can't be with you.

Whatever the reason, this blanket is a real asset for both of you. If your son ever needs to sleep away from home, the blanket will make the transition easier. And rest assured, your son will not be sucking his blanket in college. Children give up these kinds of behaviors as they get older and find other ways to soothe themselves.

Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, November 2004.

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