We’ve all been there, frantically searching the house as our little ones panic at the loss of their beloved comfort object. There are many names for it; a blankie, miffy, lovey, security blanket...but why is it they can’t be without it? Well, we think we have the answer...
Ever heard of a ‘transitional object’? Don’t worry, neither had we. As it happens, lovies have been a thing for as long as anyone can remember, but they only started to get people talking from around 1951, when paediatrician D.W Winnicott first coined the term transitional objects.
Winnicott defined transitional objects as “any material to which an infant attributes a special value and by means of which the child is able to make the necessary shift from the earliest oral relationship with mother to genuine object-relationships.”
At their core, these transitional objects, in the form of blankets, cuddlies, soothers and more, can serve as emotional support for your little one as they gradually begin to navigate life outside the ‘mum bubble’.
It goes much further than being a purely transitional object, small children can often detect the scent of a loved one such as their mum and grow to associate the item to their strong maternal attachment. The same principle applies with premature babies in the Neonatal Unit, when both mum and baby are given something containing each other’s scent to keep nearby to help form a strong attachment.
Transitional objects can provide a special yet comforting sensory experience for your little one. Characterised by interesting textures like the soft fibrous ridges of a cellular blanket, fluffy fleece, light yet grainy gauze, or plush minky toys – along with comforting, familiar smells that stimulate the senses and provide a unique relationship for the child.
These unique objects can empower kids to try new things without fear, give them more confidence in social situations, and even help with separation anxiety, giving them a soothing sense of security to clutch onto. Often small children will benefit from taking along their special item when experiencing new situations, such as starting nursery or visiting the doctor. This will help them to feel secure and maintain that link to a parent.
So next time your little one panics at the loss of their blanket or toy, remember that this is an important developmental period for them.
Even adults have been known to take comfort from objects, whether we understand why or not. Maybe it’s your wedding ring, old photos, a beloved heirloom, or even one of your little one’s old lovies, certain objects bring us comfort and connection out of a sense of nostalgia.
As your little one grows, they’ll reach for their own comforts, and while the mad dash to find them might not be something you’ll miss, with any luck you can approach the frenzy with a level head safe in the knowledge that it’s a natural part of their development...and won’t last forever!