It’s common for one- and two-year-olds to bond intensely with one special item, known in child development circles as a comfort or transitional object. “When a child is one or two, he begins to understand there is a “me” and a “you”— that there is an outside world,” says Dr. Stephen Barker, a registered psychologist in Oakville, Ont. This growing recognition that a parent is a separate person can be a very difficult process for children, and the comfort object does just that: provide comfort. “At this age, the child’s able to create a little image of his mother in his head, and feel comforted. It’s like, “okay, mom isn’t here, but this reminds me of her.” The comfort object is a way for a child to deal with the intense emotion he experiences when he needs mom and she isn’t there.”
Tammy Dyer, program manager of Growing Together Daycare in Surrey, B.C., often witnesses the power of the lovey. “It really provides a sense of security and a way of keeping a connection to a parent, especially if they’re having a bit of a rough day,” she says. Loveys engage the senses too. “I’ve noticed that for many kids, it’s that one corner of the blanket that they rub, or the satin edge; it’s the one little piece that just feels right. They bring it up to their nose, or rub it along their upper lip, so they can smell something familiar that reminds them of home.”
It goes where she goes
While all that hard-core attention results in loveys that are downright ratty, prying them out of a toddler’s chubby fingers for a much-needed trip through the washing machine and dryer can be challenging. Candice Currie of Collingwood, Ont., thought she had the perfect solution when she snapped up the last package of an about-to-be-discontinued crib duvet cover from Ikea. Her daughter, Brynne, 3, had been dragging around the same duvet cover, dubbed the “blah-blee,” since she took her first steps, and it was showing its age. “I thought I’d be able to swap them, so she’d have one during the day and then a clean one for bedtime, but unfortunately Brynne noticed the new blah-blee,” she says ruefully. “So now we haul both around with us everywhere we go, along with the pillowcase from the set, known as “little blah-blee.”
When the time is right
Some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of their child being so fiercely attached to one item. “There’s this stigma at times; parents say, “you’re a big girl now,’ and take it away,” notes Dyer. “It’s really hard on kids if they lose their comfort object before they’re ready. It’s sad to see them go cold turkey.”
And there’s no reason to force the issue, says Dr. Barker. Most children leave their loveys behind by age three or four, or just turn to them during times of stress, like illness or a night away from home. “Hanging on to a comfort object too long is not associated with any kind of difficulty later on in life. Don’t take the object away, but add in talking,” advises Dr. Barker. “Help the child put her feelings into words if she’s feeling upset or anxious. The bottom line is that one of the most important tasks for a child is to learn how to manage strong emotion; how to self-soothe. These objects really help them do that. They need to have them as long as they need to have them.”
Bonnie Schiedel is a freelance writer based in Ignace, Ont. She has fond memories of a pink bunny named Snuggles.