How long will my toddler stay attached to their comfort object?

Lovey, blankie, transitional object – there are quite a few names for the very special thing a young child picks out to be his home-away-from-home and sense of security when a parent is not around. There are also thousands of objects a child might choose, from the more expected – a stuffed animal or a special blanket – to the more unconventional – from a plastic hammer to one of your hats that Baby has decided is theirs now.

It’s sweet to see your little one all cuddled up to his beloved wind-up tractor, but aside from the worry about the meltdown that may happen if a toddler’s comfort object gets lost, many parents find themselves wondering whether their children are relying too much on their comfort objects or whether relying on a comfort object may be a sign of insecurity. This can lead parents to wonder whether they should start to guide their children away from using comfort objects.

When should children start to let go of comfort objects?

First, it’s important to note that children who rely on or are especially attached to comfort objects are not more insecure than children who are less attached to them. Different people develop different coping mechanisms at different times, and for many young children, the point when they realize that their parents are separate people from them – who they will have to learn to be apart from sometimes – comes around the same time that they start to attach to an object. This object, which psychologists refer to as a transitional object, can help young children transition away from being with their parents while still feeling calm and secure.

A comfort object can be a part of a young child’s life for years. Generally, young children start to let go of these objects, a little bit at a time, on their own as they get older and start to develop other coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or anxiety. Children who don’t start to let go of their comfort objects on their own those may start to gradually wean themselves away from them once they’ve started school, due to peer pressure. Children may start out depending less on comfort objects during the day, and then eventually start to let go at night as well.

Comfort objects are normal, and can be a healthy part of many children’s development, and while it’s natural to wonder how long the comfort object phase is going to last, it can be a great tool for parents during traveling, or during times that are more stressful to the family.

Helping your little one let go

If your child’s comfort object is a pacifier, it can be helpful to check in with his dentist about it as his teeth grow in and settle into place. Pacifiers can have an impact on dental health and speech patterns even when it’s just a child’s baby teeth that have come in.

For all other comfort objects, there’s no real reason why you should encourage your child to let go, but if an extreme attachment is starting to cause problems for your family, you can start to limit locations where he can have his comfort object. This can be helpful both as a way of slowly encouraging your child to develop other habits to help him feel secure and so that his comfort object doesn’t get lost – after all, the longer he has been attached to it, the harder it will be to replace or find a new one if it does get lost.

If it seems like recently your child’s need for his comfort object has actually increased instead of lessened, it may just mean that he is dealing with a lot of new or challenging experiences right now – and if an increased reliance on his comfort object is one of the main ways that it’s showing, the comfort object is doing its job.


Sources
  • Colleen Goddard. “More than just teddy bears.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, July 14 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-guest-room/201407/more-just-teddy-bears.
  • William Sears. “Ask Dr. Sears: Security blanket.” Parenting. Meredith women’s network. Retrieved March 23 2018. https://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-security-blanket.
  • “Transitional objects.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, August 1 2009. Retrieved March 23 2018. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Transitional-Objects.aspx. 
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