Tales of tantrums and tears from a lost teddy bear are fairly common. We’ve even told a few of them, and we've given tips how a parent can deal. By toddler and preschool age, a lot of kids have formed a special bond and attachment to objects that provide comfort.
“Usually, the lovey is a first stuffed animal or a blanket from the crib, so the child connects the lovey with feeling safe and comfortable,” Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., a child educational psychologist and associate clinical professor emeritus at University of California, Los Angeles, told Parents.
Your child’s attachment to his lovey may have started when it was a constant companion at bedtime. “When your child wakes up in the middle of the night, the object takes your place as a soother,” sleep coach Gabrielle Weill told Smart Parenting.
This attachment can stay with him for years, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may even help your preschooler learn and grow. “These special comforts are called transitional objects because they help children make the emotional transition from dependence to independence,” said HealthyChildren.org, a parenting resource site from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Parents worry a child’s attachment to a stuffed toy points to broader issues, but it is rarely the case. “Don't worry that [your child's] attachment to her [lovey] may reveal some underlying insecurities or may slow her independence. This is simply not true,” said pediatrician Dr. William Sears in a column for Parenting.
“You might be concerned if a 10-year-old is walking around with a blankie, but from a developmental perspective, a 5-year-old taking one to school isn’t a big deal,” Lynne Reside, a former early childhood educator, told Today's Parent.
Often, a lovey is a coping mechanism to help a child feel better when she’s feeling stressed, scared, or worried. Milestones at this age like starting school or potty training can be pretty overwhelming for a kiddo. It makes sense that preschoolers want their favorite teddy bear near.
Have a preschooler with a lovey? Here are a few more things you should know:
1. Be understanding Avoid making comments in the hopes of loosening the attachment your preschooler has for his lovey. Remember, it’s not a bad thing! It will even help you provide your child comfort in situations that can be tough for him, like when he has to be separated from you.
“Be accepting of your child's obsession, so he knows that you understand him and that you empathize,” Tovah Klein, Ph.D., the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and Associate Professor of Psychology at Barnard College, told Parents Magazine.
If you do find that you want to lessen your child’s need for his lovey, consider why he feels like he needs it in the first place. Find out what’s causing your child stress or worry.
2. Your child will find other ways to cope You may have childhood memories of clinging on to a favorite stuffed toy, pillow, blanket or even mom’s used shirt when you were younger. Today, you probably cope with stress very differently.
“Children may grow out of their lovey at age 3 or 4, others continue to benefit from them for years,” said Dr. Harvey Karp, a renowned pediatrician and child development expert, told BabyCenter. When your child finds other ways to cope with stress, you'll notice him gradually giving up his lovey, according to AAP.
3. Set rules Just like bedtime or your child’s gadget use, it’s okay to set rules and boundaries when it comes to your child’s lovey as long as they’re reasonable and come from a place of love. This teaches your child that there is a time and a place for everything, including his special stuffed toy, said Dr. Daniel Coury, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in the U.S.
If your child wants to bring his lovey to the mall, the rule can be that he can take it with him, but it has to stay behind in the car to avoid it getting lost or dirty. It can be the rule if he wants to bring the lovey to preschool as well.
On a final note, “remove or reduce the use of a lovey only if there’s a health concern,” said Reside. “The world is still a big, new place for little kids, and they need to be allowed the time and tools to mature at their own rate.”