It’s almost like a tradition for children to latch on to stuffed animals, blankets or something similar. There is a scientific reason for that.
Back in the 1950s, English pediatrician and psychiatrist Donald Winnicott first coined the term “transitional object,” referring to the toys and blankets kids often choose as objects with special emotional value, TheStar notes. According to studies from 2011, 60% of children have some sort of emotional attachment to objects.
Now, if you are like us, you would immediately say “stuffed animals are not simply objects!”. We would say you are right, but scientists would say that stuffies are indeed objects. Whatever the definition you have, the effects are the same. Teddy bears are the most popular such transitional objects. They are the favorite of 42% of children between 1 and 2 years old.
The reasons for this are not overly complex, but are a bit tough to explain. The latching on to stuffed animals and other objects is often something kids do without realizing it. It is a way for them to start facing the world around them and having something they can rely on at all times, child development specialist Colleen Goddard says.
The habit of carrying a teddy bear around is also a way for children to have comfort and relief stress, says Pediatrician Dr. Michael Dickinson, vice-president of the Canadian Pediatric Society. Yes, children are also stressed, albeit for reasons different than their boss for example.
If your child has such a transitional object, don’t worry. It’s actually beneficial for the child. Goddard says objects can act as an “emotional buffer,” helping stabilize children during stressful experiences. “A child will be able to successfully move through to transitions in life if they’ve had a solid relationship with their initial transitional object,” she says.
Parents can also take use of that and help introduce children to new routines like bedtime. It is also a way to help relieve a child who is upset.
Dickinson says the objects are typically most helpful in the first three years of life. Most kids keep a close relationship with their stuffed animal for longer and even when they start going to a kindergarten. Parents can ease the process by setting limits. For example that the teddy bear can’t leave the house or having specific playtime schedule. “If the child knows the blankie is always going to be produced at bedtime, they might find it easier to give up during the day,” Dickinson explains.