Pacifiers, blankies, jackets, thumbs, and various stuffed animals have long been the treasured companions for young children. In fact, Charles Schultz, creator of the famous “Peanuts” comic strip, incorporated children’s natural proclivity for a lovey, or transitional object as they are sometimes called, when he penned blanket-toting Linus.
Parents as late as the 1940’s believed that a child owning a transitional object reflected either an unnatural relationship with his or her parents or displayed a sense of anxiety on the child’s part. Researchers have since concluded the opposite. Experts now regard these comfort items as a healthy means to help a young child to make the transition emotionally from dependence on a caregiver(s) to independence. These transitional objects generally appear between the ages of nine and eighteen months, although thumb sucking can show up in kids as early as three or four months of age.
Whatever a child might use to self-soothe, a debate will naturally arise between a child’s parents, grandparents, and even well-intentioned friends about the how and when of a comfort item “going away.” A nearly fifteen year veteran of pediatrics and a mother of three elementary aged children, Dr. Melissa Garcia of ABCD Pediatrics states that the method a parent utilizes should depend on the age and temperament of the child.
“I’ll Have the Cold Turkey, Please”
Some staunchly defend the “cold turkey” method of removing the item completely at once and never looking back. Dr. Garcia says that this method generally works best when a child is younger than 24 months. “It’s like sleep training. The younger the child, the easier he or she will acclimate.” She warns that this method can be emotionally taxing, and that it can create anxiety for both the child and the parents.
“Slowly But Surely”
After a child blows out two candles on a birthday cake, allowing him/her to help with the weaning process is generally most effective. Dr. Garcia tells about the success that many of her patients have experienced in placing the comfort item in a basket and then releasing balloons as a symbolic sign of them going away.
Whether bidding it a formal adieu complete with a ceremonial giving away of the object with your child in tow or secretly stashing the beloved item when he/she isn’t aware, there is no doubt: it will be a challenging time for everyone involved.
Two of my own three sons developed a deep affection for a comfort item early in their toddler years. While my oldest son chose a non-traditional wooden train to carry with him everywhere he went, my middle son’s stuffed snowman was a more traditional choice. Both boys, however, eventually decided on their own to put their most prized possession down; my husband and I never had to force the subject of when and where their lovey could accompany them. It turns out that that this was a real blessing. Their choice of when or if to hold their transitional object saved us a mountain of tears and whining-for our sons, too!
But what about those kids whose attachment to their item goes beyond a certain age? And when is the right time for a child to say goodbye to their lovey?
Dr. Melissa Garcia warns that pacifier use beyond the age of three is not advisable. In fact, at a patient’s two-year-old well visit, if a pacifier is still in place, she will counsel her parents to begin the process of weaning the “pacie” from the toddler. “Eighteen months to two years of age is the most common age to begin. Most should wean by two, but definitely by three. She cautions her parents not to be surprised after successful pacifier disuse has occurred. Many times a child who has been attached to a pacifier and has given it up will pick up another transitional object such as a blanket or a stuffed animal. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she chuckles.
But take heart. A child won’t head off to college with his or her well-loved teddy grasped tightly in a palm. Most kids by kindergarten realize the social appropriateness of having a beloved object trailing behind them and ditch the object themselves. Usually they opt to leave the lovey at home, though sometimes teachers can have a hand in the process if the object is brought to school. Susan Moore-Sickman, Lower School Counselor for Saint Mary’s Hall, states “carrying a lovey is a sign of insecurity…the goal is for the child to see the teacher as security and then be able to branch out to other trusted adults.”
Dr. Garcia agrees and adds that it is important for a school-aged child to be able to self-soothe without the object, noting that she is speaking about kids who have reached developmental milestones at a normal rate and not children with autism. Kids with autism or on the spectrum should always be allowed an object to help them deal with stress at any age.
Suggested Titles to Enjoy With Your Child:
Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
What Does My Teddy Bear Do All Day? by Bruno Hachler
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough
Corduroy by Don Freeman