Some kids love their pacifiers. Some children suck their thumb until their ten years old. Some kids have a favorite blanket that resembles a rag that they’d like to rub on their face. I’ve even seen kids lay on top of their favorite stuffed animal and move back and forth which looks strikingly similar to….Ummm…you get what I’m talking about, right?
What is a childhood lovey otherwise known as a “transitional object”?
All three of my children have had what the experts call a “transitional object” – think of it as a childhood lovey. It’s a smaller object, that can easily be held by an infant or toddler and can help ease anxiety for the child during various situations. An anxiety-inducing situation doesn’t have to be dramatic, it could be as simple as dropping the toddler off at the church nursery Sunday mornings so you can go to church. Or another example, if you don’t cosleep, would be when the child wakes in the middle of the night, is no longer nursing, and needs help soothing himself or herself back to sleep. The job of the transitional object is to help the child make an emotional transition from dependence on their caregiver to being independent. One article I read said this, which I found to be really helpful in understanding the psychology behind that ragged eight-year-old blanket my son lovingly calls, “Taggie,”
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.
What is “normal” when it comes to a transitional object?
I put the word normal in quotation marks because what is normal for one person is abnormal for another. When it comes to children this couldn’t be closer to the truth. I have three children, they all come from the same gene pool, however, there were all fearfully and wonderfully made, created. They are individual people. So what is normal behavior for a transitional object?
- The object is chosen by the child and not the parent. Sure I had grand plans of the kind of security blanket my children would have but at the end of the day, when the time came, they chose their transitional object. There was nothing I could do to control that.
- The object is something usually soft, fuzzy.
- Parents usually notice an attachment to a particular “not-me” object between the age of four months to 12 months. My son developed an attachment to a stuffed white bear (who is not more of a beige color than white) at the age of nine months. My youngest daughter became attached to her aptly named “Teddy”, a pink bear, at the of the 12 months. My middle daughter fell in love with her little tag blanket that was handmade by a friend at the age of four months. She’s five-years-old and still adores her little rag, uh, I mean Taggie.
- The transitional object does not change; unless the child decides to do so. The parent can’t decide what object the child will become attached to and therefore the transitional object doesn’t change unless the child decides to change it.
As far as what is normal in behavior with the transitional object you can ask any seasoned parent and they can describe to you in great detail how the child uses their beloved security blanket or teddy or baby doll or burp cloth (you get the picture) to soothe themselves. I asked a few parents what their kids did with their transitional objects and here’s what I found:
- My daughter has one little tag on this blanket that she literally rolls into a ball and shoves it into her nose. Then she moves it around in a circular motion.
- When my daughter is tired she puts her stuffed animal in between her legs and looks almost like she’s humping it! She only does this when she’s tired though, thank goodness!
- My son has a blanket he calls “B” He rubs it on his cheeks, runs it between his fingers, even rubs it IN his ear, and whenever he gets an “owie” he rubs his B on that too. He also has a small stuffed animal that he puts the tail into his ear, it’s a comfort thing I guess.
- My son has his blanket. He likes it near his face when he sleeps & likes to lace his fingers through the holes (it’s a hand knit blanket.) Also loves his paci for comfort.
- My daughter has silky blankets that she rubs between her fingers. My son was the same way. She has to have all of her blankets though (not just one)!
Notice a theme in these behaviors? They usually involve a rhythmic motion, similar to walking, bouncing or rocking, that occurs during infancy when parents are trying to soothe the child. Once I asked my pediatrician about some of my kids’ odd behaviors with their transitional objects and my pediatrician said that we have the most nerves in our face and our genitals. That’s why the rhythmic motions children do with their transitional objects are usually found on their faces or genitals (that rocking back and forth motion I described earlier). When it comes to soothing the behavior we see from our children is more about the rhythmic nature than anything else.
Side note: If your child does use that rocking motion when trying to sleep or when they’re nervous, do not worry, it is not sexual in nature. Does it feel good? Yes, it feels good the same way rubbing their blanket against their cheek or shoving it up their nose feels good. The worst possible thing a parent can do is scold the child or embarrass them. From what I’ve read here’s what you can do if your child prefers this method of soothing:
Explain to the child that the behavior is private for our bedroom.
Although it’s shocking to witness, it’s normal; the more you freak out the more the child becomes aware that the behavior is wrong and dirty. They’re toddlers for goodness sake; keep that in mind.
As the child ages, their need for the transitional object becomes less. By the time my son was in Kindergarten, while he missed his Bear and Taggie, he understood that he could not bring them with to school. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t race up to his room the second he entered the door to grab Bear and Taggie. He most certainly did! My advice, having three kids of my own, is to just allow your child to be a child. This isn’t something you need to sweat; it’s small stuff in my opinion. Your child will navigate himself or herself in the world as they grow and they’ll learn that it’s not acceptable to suck their thumb when they feel nervous or shove their blanket into their mouth at a sleepover and I highly doubt your toddler will become a tween who has to hump herself to sleep at summer camp. Love on, Mama, don’t sweat the small stuff.
Bert Anderson is a blogger and social media manager mom of three living outside of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She’s the author behind the blog First Time Mom, where she honestly chronicles the peaks and valleys of parenting. Even though she has more than one child, Bert maintains that whether you have one child or 19, there’s a first time for everything. She’s a lover of coffee, conversations, pop culture, healthy living and fitness.