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I Want my Blankey!


Sometimes it’s a blanket and sometimes it’s a stuffed toy that provides the comfort and calm that nothing else can. Security objects are, for many children, an important prop in their emotional and intellectual development.

Security Objects and Development

In their first year, children learn that they are separate, unique, and distinct people, a milestone in their emotional development. By the end of the first year, toddlers become mobile—taking the first steps toward independence. But children have mixed feelings about independence. It is natural and necessary, and also terrifying. A security object has real emotional importance to a child. Like a true friend, it is familiar, accepting, and faithful. It stands for Mother, a significant adult in the child’s life. It is the guaranty of safety and security; it promises a parent’s return. It offers the comfort of a soothing voice and a gentle hand.

With transitional objects, babies are able to control their own comfort. Rather than wait for adults to provide soothing cuddles, babies learn to sooth themselves. A security object fills the space between the adult’s comforting functions and the child’s own. For example, some babies learn—and expect—to fall asleep in their parents arms, rocking in the same chair every night. When the routine changes, there is chaos. The baby finds no comfort in a babysitter’s arms or in the strange chair at Grandpa’s house. Babies who have learned to use transitional comfort objects can find comfort anywhere—as long as the security object is with them.

Attachment to a security object is usually the first indication that a child understands symbols, an important milestone in emotional development. It is a way of saying, "I can’t have you right now, so I’ll cling to this thing that reminds me of you and your love for me."

Who uses security objects?

About 60 percent of toddlers use transitional objects. Some children who don’t use security objects develop other self-soothing techniques like rocking back and forth or thumb-sucking. Temperament also seems to play a role. Some children have extreme responses to stressful situations while others are less sensitive to upset and have less need for a security object

Children usually choose security objects that have silky or nubbly textures because they offer sensory satisfaction. Blankets are frequently chosen because they are so familiar and at the child’s fingertips, right in the crib. Many children develop elaborate rituals with their security object like turning a blanket until the "right" corner brushes a cheek or rubbing a teddy bears plastic eye. Smell is also important in a toddler’s choice of a security object. This explains why washing a security object is devastating to some children.

Transitional Objects at Daycare

Occasionally, transitional objects challenge child care programs. Child-centered programs and responsive teachers, however, understand the need some children have for these transitional comfort objects. Avoid the rule that says "Nothing from home should be brought to daycare." Instead, let parents know that security objects are important to many children and can ease the transition from home to child care. Some programs ask that parents provide nap blankets—a piece of home for a time when a child needs comfort and security.

Children who rely on transitional objects are quick to recognize their significance in the lives of other children. Make it clear to the children that security objects are personal possessions and are not likely to be shared. Offer children a safe place for lecurity object storage—a cubbie or label shelf or hook, for example. When a lsecurity object is misplaced, encourage the whole group to look for it . The security object will be found in less time, and the group will learn a valuable lesson in compassion and empathy.

Children usually determine their own need for a transitional object You may or not be aware of special stresses that provoke the cry, "I want Horsey." Most children use their security objects during transition times. Char developed a strong attachment to her teddy when her new brother was born. Wender walks into the classroom every morning with his blankey wrapped around his arm. Hank looks for buttons at the end of the day when he knows its time to go home. Kara holds her snuggles only at naptime.

Every child has different needs that can vary during the course of the day. When children are tired, hungry, frustrated, or not feeling well, they may want their security object, even after a long period of disuse.

Giving Up the security object

A child’s need for a security object diminishes with the development of secure attachments to new people. Safe, protective environments help children feel secure and willing to take risks with unfamiliar people and situations. Make sure you are warm and welcoming but not overwhelming. Establish predictable routines that help children anticipate activities and events. Provide interesting and attractive materials and equipment that encourage involvement in the classroom environment. Allow children time to observe and move slowly toward interactions with people and materials. Never use a security object as a punishment or reward for behavior.

Children do eventually give up their security object, but there’s no certain age when this happens. With increasing intellectual and emotional maturity, they are able to use memory instead of a holey blanket or tattered stuffed animal to help cement their attachments to home and family. Demonstrate your respect for children’s struggles with dependence and independence—their need for the familiar and secure battling with the need for skill mastery and knowledge.


This article is reprinted from Texas Child Care, a quarterly newspaper published by the Texas Workforce Commission. Posted 7-25-04 on kidsgrowth.com

 

As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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