Does your child have a security blanket or soft toy? You may be worried that your child will grow too dependent on such things, but psychologists say it's perfectly all right as long as it doesn't impede the child's development.
Psychologist and family marriage therapist Ivy Tan says children may form an attachment to comfort objects from infancy. It's actually a good way for them to build independence through a transitional object.
“A child at infancy does not understand that he and his mum are two separate people. He thinks that the mum is an extension of himself. So, when you pass the object to him, it creates a realisation. The child realises that we are separate beings and that without that separate being he needs comfort,” says Tan.
The first time they would need this transitional or comfort object is when the mum weans the child off breastfeeding.
“When the mum stops breastfeeding, the child will look for places where he can find a similar texture, smell and reaction, in that sense,” she explains.
Every time a child or a baby goes through a different transitional stage, the child has some kind of distress. You may not be able to detect it but there is some form of distress. The parents may choose to give the child a blanket or soft toy which acts as a security object and comforts the child. The child will then have to transition to getting comfort from the blanket or toy.
Introducing an item
Parents can test out the security object themselves to know what your child feels when he holds it and hugs it.
“When you pass it on to the child you will see that the child slowly conditions himself to like it and feel comfort,” says Tan.
When introducing a security object, parents should prepare two. This is not because the child is over-anxious, but the child may take to one object and not another.
According to Tan, the security object helps a child to emotionally develop a sense of independence.
“Research-wise, psychologists believe that it's a natural and healthy way for the child to develop.
“How do we identify when the child needs it? During the transition from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, from the bottle to maybe sleeping alone, when they are not used to strange places .... These are all times when the child will most probably need comfort.
“Some parents may not understand why their baby is still crying when everything seems to be okay – the child is dry and well fed and doesn't need to be burped. It could be that one security object which the baby has identified with is not there. It could be a small soft toy that has always been by the crib, something the parents may not notice. For the baby it is important and parents need to be able to identify that."
“It also helps when parents cannot be with their child for 24 hours,” says Tan.
She explains that the security blanket or soft toy may not just be for big and traumatic changes in the child's life. It may also be to comfort the child for small things that parents may not be aware of.
It is up to parents to figure out the significance of the object to the child and to identify if the child needs it or not. Then parents can figure out what is the benefit for the child.
So, now that you have the security item, how long should you keep it?
From birth to about four or six months old is usually when the parents start providing blankets and small toys. From then to about 18 months old is when detachment is strongest. Sometimes the relationship or friendship that the child has formed with the soft toy or blanket grounds the child and provides stability. Parents can see the difference between when the child is at home with it and without it.
“There's no way to tell which child will need a security object and how long they will need it. It varies according to individual.
“As they grow older the parent would know if this is affecting the function of their daughter or son,” says Tan.
If the parents have not introduced it and the child hasn't shown a need for a security object, it's fine. It doesn't mean that your child is different, has insecurities or something is wrong.
It's just a process that some children go through.
Research has shown that it's okay if your child doesn't have a security object; they will still move on through the transition process.
“You may want to limit the time the child spends with the security object. You may want to reinforce them whenever you notice them spending lesser time with the object.
“If the object is not inhibiting the social, language or development of the child, there's actually nothing to be concerned about. The child could just be having the toy by the bed at night when he goes to sleep and the next day he leaves it there when he goes to school. That is healthy. When they spend the day with people, it's easy to be stressed and night-time might be pretty hard, so they might need an object for comfort at night,” says Tan.
According to her, the best time to start weaning the child off of the security object is the period when the child starts going to day care and school.
Tan advises parents to inform the staff at the day care centre that their child is adjusting to going to day care without their security blanket.
“You may not want to give it up completely because it provides security, so you might limit its usage. You might tell your child that they have to leave the blanket in your car when they go to day care but when they come back, the blanket will be waiting for them in the car.
“So it's a process of weaning the child off the security object gradually. Most psychologists would not encourage parents to abruptly take away the item from their child because that will provide a sense of insecurity.
“Removing a security object is similar to introducing it to the child – it is a very fragile process,” informs Tan.
One way to wean the child is by offering to help during play time. Sometimes the child might try carrying the blanket with one hand and playing with the other hand. But the child won't be able to play using both hands and the child might get teased by the other children. The parents might offer to hold it for them while they play. As time goes by, the child will focus on the toys and forget about the blanket until it's time to go home.
Tan offers the following tips on how to wean the child off of the security object:
- Don't go cold turkey.
- You may want to gently say that blankets are not allowed in day care and that he will get his blanket when he gets home after day care.
- Preferably don't say “you're a big girl now” or “you're a big boy now” because that will create insecurity.
- You can use the birthday as a milestone to wean the child. You can make it seem like a reward for being able to be independent without the blanket.
- Another way is by verbal reinforcement. You might say “Great job. I see that you don't have the blanket with you”. You need to be specific and clear about what you are praising them for. So, don't just say, “Good job”. You need to say what the “Good job” is for. For us, it might be obvious but the child needs to know that it's for the appropriate behaviour.