6 Tips for Weaning Your Child's Comfort Object
Madison Schoninger was very serious about her blankie. When the 4-year-old started prekindergarten last fall, she wanted to take it with her. But there was a problem: The preschool she attended in Colorado Springs frowned on children bringing stuff from home. And so began intense negotiations with her mom, Loni, on exactly where her blankie could go and when. "I even had to get her teacher involved so Madison would be allowed to take it to school for the first few days," admits Schoninger.
Preschool or kindergarten is often the time when a child realizes she has to brave the world without a lovey. To help your child separate with as few tears as possible, experts recommend this weaning method.
- Time it right. Don't try to take away a cherished blankie or bear just before the beginning of daycare or preschool, says Maria Kalpidou, PhD, assistant psychology professor at Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The loss will only add to your child's fear and insecurity. If your child is starting school in September, spring or early summer is a good time to begin the transition.
- Give reasons for the "breakup." As you've learned from the endless "why? why? why?" chants, preschoolers want an explanation for everything. So when you suggest saying goodbye to a favorite bunny, give your child a reason for it. Say, "You're going to big-girl school now, so maybe it's time to leave Bunny home. She'll be here waiting when you get back." Little rituals, like having her tuck her stuffed animal into bed before she leaves the house or fasten it into the car seat when she's dropped off at preschool, help make the goodbye less painful.
- Take baby steps. Tell your child he can have his lovey at home and in the car, but not at the grocery store or the park. Or if your child demands that his blankie go to school with him, suggest a compromise. Have him take it with him for a week and leave it in his cubby for most of the day. Then, when he sees he can cope without it, suggest he try leaving the blanket at home. It also helps if you point out the risk of losing the lovey if your child takes it outside, Dr. Kalpidou says. And, give an incentive by using a star chart: Award a star for each day your child doesn't take his lovey to school and a small toy prize at the end of the week.
- Offer a substitute. Some kids are content with a replacement for their lovey, such as a note, family photo, locket, or watch. These may not be cuddly or have a comforting smell the way a stuffed animal does, but they still help your child feel connected to home when she's suffering from separation anxiety, says Anita Britt, PhD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Or, if your little one clings to something like a blanket, ask her whether you can cut it into progressively smaller pieces. Just carrying a square of her favorite fabric can be comforting enough for some kids.
- Treat the matter lightly. Don't punish or embarrass your child for clinging to a lovey, Dr. Britt says. He may grow even more attached to it, and you could set yourself up for power struggles. If your macho husband gets upset when your son totes a bear to a ball game, just remind him of all the famous jocks who wear their lucky old socks to games.
- Expect regression. When a stressful time hits -- such as a grandparent's death, the arrival of a new sibling, or a move -- don't be surprised or upset if your child snuggles up to a beloved toy again for comfort, says Hugh Bases, MD, developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. When the crisis has passed, she'll be more open to letting go again, and you can restart the weaning process.
On Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, visit My Fox New York's Web site and click on the Good Day tab to watch Parents Executive Editor, Kate Lawler, talk about how to help your child let go of a lovey.