Parents often worry that a child’s attachment to his security blanket denotes insecurity or weakness. As a result, children are sometimes traumatized when pressured to let go of their blankets or soft toys before they are ready. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, security blankets are just a natural part of growing up and are eventually given up.
Whether it’s a threadbare blankie or dog-eared doggy, this item is seemingly glued to your child’s body, as he resists all attempts to leave his transitional object (aka his lovey) at home — or even let you wash it.
For many babies and toddlers, the security blanket or “blankie” is an essential part of childhood. This cuddly and much-loved item has also saved many a parent from sleepless nights or stress-filled outings.
There is something very endearing about seeing a small child or baby clutching their blankie. The image is not only cute, but it brings to mind snuggly, sleepy children and a peaceful break for a tired mum.
During a child’s early years, the security blanket almost seems to be part of the family. Packing the nappy bag for an outing? Into the bag must go the snacks, water, baby rattle, bib, nappies, wet wipes and blankie!
Personifying their blankie increases a child’s attachment to it. With a name and personality, the blankie becomes as real as any of their friends. A little person asking for “Dashie” or “Banjo” so that they can take a nap is one of the sweetest things you can hear.
A security blanket is a comforter for the child and assurance to the parents that, once the blanket is in hand, their baby will soon be napping. Here, we look at how to introduce a blanket to your baby.
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Security blankets provide children with emotional support, and this explains the depth of their attachment to them. Usually, the security blanket or soft toy has a special name, and a child will be devoted to it. Children need these items to feel safe, to withstand fear or pain and to handle being away from their parents. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children select a security blanket between 8 and 12 months of age and hang on to it for several years.
Security blankets are often known as transitional objects because they help children transition from dependence to independence. These transitional objects work primarily because they are tactile reminders of home, and they feel cuddly. Security blankets personify all that is positive and comforting in a child’s world — her room, her scent. Her attachment stems from the familiarity of the object, and its value lies in its capacity to help her be on her own.
Some children adopt a security blanket to adjust to the emotional changes brought about by weaning. Weaning a baby is an emotional event for the child and his mother because breastfeeding is an intimate activity that nurtures a very strong bond between mother and child. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that a security blanket can be especially beneficial when incorporated into a child’s bedtime ritual.
A study published in the journal Cognition in 2007 suggested that a child may become attached to her security blanket or toy because she believes it has an inimitable property or essence. The two principal researchers, Professor Bruce Hood from the University of Bristol and Dr Paul Bloom from Yale, drew parallels between children’s behaviour with their blankets and adult behaviour with memorabilia — namely, the belief that certain sacred inanimate objects house invisible properties or contain some essence of their original owners.
Security blankets sometimes promote thumb sucking, which concerns many parents. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this habit is nothing to worry about. Thumb sucking, like security blankets, is a normal, natural method that young children employ to self-soothe. The attachment is temporary. In time, children forgo security blankets as they develop other stress-management techniques.
Why is a Security Blanket so Popular with babies?
All babies start to experience separation anxiety when they reach approximately seven months of age. This is a natural part of the baby’s development. Separation anxiety can also affect night time sleeps, causing your baby to wake up and call for you.
If you introduce a security blanket to your little one at around three months old, they will form an attachment to something other than you to provide them with comfort. The blanket becomes an attachment object, an item familiar and comforting which can help the baby fall back to sleep or feel safe.
The blankie is a soft, warm, and cuddly item which smells familiar and feels nice against your baby’s skin. It is also something they can become very used to regardless of where they sleep. It can make an unfamiliar place feel more like home.
Young babies are often moved around a lot. Having something familiar and comforting, such as a blanket, with them helps the infant feel more at ease regardless of where they are.
Choosing a Good Blanket
If you have decided that you would like to offer your child the security of a blankie of their own, the next step is to find a blanket to serve the purpose.
Key points to remember are:
The sense of touch is very important when choosing a blanket. The blanket should feel cuddly, soft and smooth. The best fabric that meets these criteria is cotton. Consider choosing a blankie made from organic cotton that is free from chemical pesticides, which is better for both baby and the earth.
Your baby’s blanket will often be close to their face. They will be breathing with their nose and mouth held very close to the fabric. Ensure you choose a blanket that has not been treated with harsh chemicals during processing and look for prints made with water-based inks.
Buy A Backup
If your baby has become extremely attached to their blankie and cannot sleep without it, what will you do if the item needs to be washed or is lost? It pays to choose a blanket which can be replaced or for which you have a back-up.
Many would certainly recommend purchasing two identical items. Having two identical security blankets offers you and your baby a great deal of peace of mind. Plus, if the blanket becomes old or torn, then there is no need to resort to MacGyver-like methods in order to keep the blankie in sleep-able condition.
Once you have decided on the right security blanket, it is time to introduce the item to the child.
Introducing the Blanket
When the baby is around three months of age, you can begin to introduce the blanket. Under the Red Nose (formerly SIDS) guidelines, soft toys such as baby blankets should not be placed in the cot until the baby is seven months of age. Instead, each time you comfort your baby ensure you have the blanket over your shoulder or cuddled with baby in your arms. The baby will gradually begin to associate the smell and feel of the blanket with the comfort that you provide.
Make sure that you also offer the blanket during cuddle times that are not associated with hunger, fear, or pain. It’s important that, when you introduce the blanket, the baby be in a comfortable, happy place and mood.
The blanket should be part of everything that the parent is able to offer the child.
Soon you will discover that the baby will be soothed when you place the blanket into the bed beside them. The blanket will provide security to the child when you are not with them and become a loved bedtime buddy. It can also be very useful during car trips, sleepovers, and outings. Especially if you have multiple children, anything to help keep a baby quiet is helpful!
You will find that if you need to leave your baby with a sitter, or if you have to place the infant down to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, they will most likely settle more easily if they have their blanket along with them. Their cuddle blanket will become a trusted friend.
Beautiful Security Blanket Options
Kippins offer a range of beautiful and organic blanket options for your baby. Their cotton range is soft and gentle, and the fabric is breathable. The water-based inks do not contain harsh chemicals and are not harmful to your child.
Only the gentlest and most earth-friendly methods are used to harvest the cotton for the Kippins range. Their products are made with the utmost love and care from the farm to the store.
When only the best will do, browse Kippins’ lovely range of baby products and choose the right security blanket for your precious baby.
When offered the choice of originals and copies, children showed no preference for duplicates of their toys unless the object to be copied was the special one that they took to bed every night. A quarter of children refused to have their favourite object copied at all, and most of those who were persuaded to put their toy in the copying machine wanted the original back.”
It used to be thought that these attachment toys or transitional objects were comfort items that provided a sense of security for infants raised in households where they slept separately from the mother.
However, the results with the copy box studies suggest that in addition to these physical properties of the toy, children believe that there is some other property of their objects that cannot be physically copied.
This unique property also applied to objects belonging to famous people. Hood and Bloom placed a metal goblet in the copying machine and told 6-year-olds that the object was special either because it was made of precious metal or because it once belonged to the Queen.
When shown the original and a copy, children thought the duplicate silver goblet was worth the same as the original, but a goblet that once belonged to royalty was worth more than any copy.
Hood and Bloom liken this early reasoning to adult notions of ‘essences’ where we think invisible properties inhabit objects that make them unique as if these properties were physically real. This may explain why some adults think that authentic works of art and memorabilia contain some of the essences of the original creator or owner. Likewise, it also partly explains our reluctance to touch or wear items previously owned by murderers.
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Why does it happen?
Most children get attached to a specific object (most often a crib blanket, stuffed animal, or thumb) before they reach their first birthday, but this behaviour usually peaks in the second year. That’s because transitional objects (T.O.s) provide a sense of security when toddlers are beginning to explore the world and become more independent. Plus, T.O.s provide comfort at a time when childhood fears (of the dark, of strangers, of dogs) start in earnest.
What do you need to know?
Don’t worry about your toddler earning his diploma with his teddy in tow. Sometime between ages two and five, most kids are ready to bid bye-bye to their blankie (though they may occasionally cling to it during times of stress). The attachment is rarely abnormal, but do keep an eye out if your tot is always snuggling his T.O. instead of playing with toys, running around outside, or socializing with peers. If so, consider whether there’s an underlying cause, such as a stressful situation at home or a problem with a child-care provider.
What to do about it?
First, what not to do. Never tease your child about his attachment to a beloved object, and don’t insist that he give it up. You can, however, take these steps to make it easier for him to let go when the time is right:
- Set limits, if possible. Tell your toddler that his teddy can be carried around in the house but not to the playground. Or that it can go in the car but not inside the store. (He may surprise you by actually listening to reason — “Let’s keep Teddy at home where he won’t get lost or dirty.”)
- Enlist your child’s help. Ask him to find a special place in the house where his blanket will be safe while he plays outside. Or suggest he buckles it in the stroller or car seat before he leaves for daycare.
- Schedule laundry visits. Get your child used to have his lovey washed (when he’s asleep overnight is a good time). Your nose (and his) will thank you.
- Buy a duplicate if possible. You can whip out the twin (and head off a meltdown) when the original goes AWOL.
- Keep his hands busy. He’ll have less time to cling to Teddy if he’s got interesting things to do, such as crafts, puzzles, and building toys.
- Crank up the comfort. Make sure you give lots of hugs and reassurance, so his T.O. isn’t his only source of solace.
Security Blankets and Loveys According to Science
Research shows that a child’s security blanket or beloved teddy is a good thing. It turns out, blankies and loveys are a tool to boost a child’s confidence level, self-value, and they are even empowering.
Why? Blankets and loveys are a sense of security for children — a way to help them leave their parent or caregiver for the day, to work through the tears of an emotional moment, and to handle those tough transitions that they need extra support with. With that blanket or lovey in tow, they are “less shy and more focused than children who don’t use these things.”
While added focus and being less shy are great benefits in and of themselves, there is even more good news about the advantage of letting children have blankies and loveys. Research also tells us that “their lovey objects are like the first training wheels for telling themselves ‘you’re all right’. With a built-in sense of security, children feel safe enough to take small risks, explore and grow.”
Training wheels provided a safety net which increased confidence and then was shed when no longer needed.
By taking small risks, children will feel free and unafraid to transition to taking larger risks as they grow and change.
A lovie goes beyond providing comfort
Also called a ‘transitional object’, love or security blanket gives a child a great deal of comfort. Any parent of a little one who wails for his love when he’s upset or doesn’t want to be separated from it, EVER, will know the reassurance it provides. But a lovie goes beyond just providing comfort.
In 1951, child psychologist Dr D.W. Winnicott first defined the lovie as “any material to which an infant attributes a special value and by means of which the child is able to make the necessary shift from the earliest oral relationship with mother to genuine object-relationships.”
In his view, a lovie helps our little people to navigate feelings of separation, helping them to cross the bridge from mum to becoming an independent person.
A lovie helps to build a child’s confidence
While it may seem that your lovie-dependent child is shy, needing his blankie to reassure him around people, or to help him feel comfortable in different settings (say at daycare), his comfort item may be helping to boost his confidence.
In a 2011 study into children with ‘imaginary companies,’ the researchers found that little ones with attachment items were “less shy and more focused than children without them”.
An indicator of positive future relationships
What’s more, your child’s bond with his lovie, or ‘transitional object’ is also a good indicator for how he will go at interacting and creating future friendships.
In an article for Psychology Today titled, ‘More than just bears’ psychologist Colleen Goddard writes, “Human development is not possible without self-referential contexts and meanings.”
“Meanings are founded on the distinctions each person makes of the stimuli he or she engages with — mainly the object(s) they receive, choose, or discover which have an internal life of their own.”
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Don’t diss lovie!
While it can be annoying to have to cart an old blanket around with you to the local cafe, Goddard advises parents don’t insist it’s left in the car.
“If the self-appointed object is refuted, critiqued or denied in any way, attachment difficulties may arise later in life.”
“The object allows for and invites emotional well-being, and without such an object, true feelings may be concealed, suppressed, or dismissed as the infant/child has no other means by which to cope with, comprehend, and contend with the world.”
In short, your child’s blankie, favourite stuffed toy or even the kitchen tongs is helping him to navigate life now, and also to become a functioning future adult. And we all want that for our kids!