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TRANSITIONAL OBJECTS

Parents sometimes freak when one of their offsprings hold on to a babyish behavior. What upsets these parents is the nagging thought, “If my child doesn’t stop clinging to that ratty old blanket everybody will think my child is acting babyish and that I am not a good parent.”

Why would a toddler want to go spend every moment clinging to that grubby baby blanket or a particular stuffed animal?

A child this age is going through a very important period of separation of self from mother. During this period of “transition” to selfhood, the child often seeks comfort from a familiar, soft object. Hence the term “transitional object” is given to the blanket that Linus carries around in the Peanuts comic strip. The term “treasured object” is also used.

Not all toddlers carry a security blanket around with them. Some only want the special blanket or toy at bedtime. But half of all young children do have a special attachment to an object, so we are dealing with a very common behavior.

I do not recommend taking such an object away from the child. I would be especially against sneaking it away during sleep or making up a story that some magical creature took it away. Look at it this way. If grown-ups had such harmless ways of relieving tension and anxieties, the world would be a better and safer place to live in! No drugs! No drunk drivers!

Wanting to take an object from home–and hold on to it–is normal preschool behavior. The young child associates the transitional object with the comforting attention of the parent. Separation from the mother is less difficult for a child who can hold on to an inanimate object provided by the mother.

Parents often worry that the close attachment and dependency on the object means their child is destined to be a clinging person. The very opposite is true. Holding on to a treasured object is the child’s way of becoming independent. The child learns to substitute a blanket for Mommy and later learns how to be apart from her without needing the blanket. Independence doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen. The child simply won’t need the transitional object any more. Or the child will decide to avoid teasing from peers as peer acceptance becomes more important than that old feeling of comfort and safety.

One day the child will quietly leave the blanket home. Or the child may say, “I’m going to put the blanket in my closet”. Many children want to know the object is available if they need it, but they no longer need to carry it around.

There’s a paradox here. Parents who are the most upset by “babyish” behavior and try to get their children to give up babyish ways may actually make the children anxious which makes the child less likely to give up the behavior. Those parents who understand their child’s needs, realize children grow out of childish needs at different rates, and make no fuss at all have children who are less anxious and more willing to give up a treasured object.

The basic principles to help parents deal with childish behaviors: 1) Understand why the child is doing it. 2) Accept the behavior as a normal part of your developing child. 3) Ignore the behavior; don’t make a fuss over it; don’t be embarrassed by it; 4) Wait for the child to give up the behavior realizing that each child develops and matures at his or her own pace.

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