Bye-Bye, Blankie: How To Help Your Child Give Up a Security Object

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A security object can play an important role in a child’s development, and most kids’ “lovey” affairs with a security object run their own course.

Worried your child will never give up that tattered teddy bear or soiled-beyond-recognition rag of a blankie? Don’t. A security object can play an important role in a child’s development, and most kids’ “lovey” affairs with a security object run their own course.

Why do children latch on to such things in the first place? “Kids use them to self-soothe,” explains Ann M. Lagges, Ph.D., H.S.P.P, a pediatric psychologist at Indiana University Health. “It’s a step toward independence. Instead of always needing a parent to soothe them when they’re tired, sad, or angry, or just want to feel secure, they can use a favorite blanket or toy.” Such items are often referred to as “transitional objects,” she adds, because they bridge young children’s development from total dependence on a caregiver for comfort to the ability to soothe themselves.

Not all little kids adopt a security object. Some learn to self-soothe without one. Those who do tend to zero in on a favorite toy or other item before age 1, although some wait a bit longer, says Lagges, adding that parents shouldn’t read too much into what a tot becomes attached to. “It doesn’t have to be the cutest toy or prettiest blanket, as long as it isn’t dangerous or inappropriate,” she explains. “No need to worry if a child latches on to a stuffed snake rather than a teddy bear.”

Nor is there a need to be concerned if a child hangs on to a beloved toy or other item beyond toddlerhood. “Many children gradually give up their loveys,” says Lagges. “They may go from needing it around all the time to only at night or when they don’t feel well. Others will abruptly declare they’re done with the toy or object. This usually happens around the start of kindergarten, or age 7 or 8 at the latest.”

Only if an older child is being made fun of by other kids or even getting negative reactions from adults should parents try to break up a child’s love affair with a security object. Lagges offers these strategies:

  • Set limits. Suggest your child use the object only at home or at bedtime. “You can say something like ‘Teddy can't go to kindergarten with you — kindergarten is only for big girls and big boys. He’ll need to wait for you at home’” suggests Lagges. This technique also ties the transition away from the object to a milestone such as the start of kindergarten which can help make it a rite of passage of sorts.  
  • Pour on the praise. Offer your child lots of praise for being such a “big boy” or “big girl” by relying less on a security object.
  • Offer an age-appropriate sub. Treat your child to a more grown-up item, such as a first bicycle or other toy that would not be suitable for toddlers. This way you can emphasize how cool it is to grow up. 

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