Here’s how to better understand your child’s need for transitional objects such as dummies, toys and other comforters.
Does your child have a blanket, dummy or teddy that she won’t go anywhere without?
Here’s how you can “wean’ her off these transitional objects when the time is right:
Children are not the only ones who enjoy comforters – in fact, adults have them too! While we may keep a photograph in our purse or a favourite lipstick on us at all times to help us feel more secure, toddler comforters generally consist of bottles, dummies, toys and blankets. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these, as long as the habit is not encouraged by an underlying emotional problem.
Often, a lot of fuss is made by parents and teachers about kids’ comfort items – so much so that they feel the need to take these items away or use bribes and punishments to wean little ones off their beloved attachments.
A child will let go of whatever comfort toy she has – be it a teddy, blanket, bottle or dummy – when there’s no longer a need for it. Children know themselves best – they know what they do or don’t need. Don’t throw away a comfort toy without first speaking to your child and asking her about it, otherwise this can cause a lot of resentment on the child’s part.
The transitional object
The transitional object is typically something soft, such as a blanket or soft toy, that’s reminiscent of the mother’s warm arms and breasts, according to psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. “By cuddling the object, children will feel that they are cuddling the mother and thus feel comforted,” he states.
The use of transition objects usually starts to appear at about four to six months, when a baby is moving towards the external world but hasn’t quite separated from the internal world. Taking away the object from your child can cause great anxiety, as she’s no longer in the constant presence of her mom and suffers feelings of loss and isolation. Whatever the object’s “real-world” value, in the child’s eyes it is priceless.
What about dummies?
A problem can occur when the object is something on which your child fixates rather than using it to transition to independence. Dummies allow your child to suckle – an activity she finds calming. Although some professionals have a dislike of dummies, no one has ever found any evidence to indicate that they do any harm. Objection to them is based more on aesthetic grounds than medical reasons. It’s claimed that dummies are unhygienic, but so are 10 dirty fingers that might be inserted into the mouth if the dummy wasn’t there.
There is no harm in giving your baby a dummy, especially if it helps to calm her when she is being irritable or difficult or as a result of teething, says Dr Christopher Green in his book, Toddler Taming Tips: A Parent’s Guide to the First Four Years. He does, however, recommend that you start taking away the dummy from about two and half years. “It is usually best to be brave, throw it away and then brace yourself for the repercussions. If you do not have the courage to discard it so abruptly, you may want to try a gradual withdrawal by ‘losing’ it or ‘accidentally’ damaging it.”
Understanding your child
Taking away your child’s favourite comfort object will only result in it being replaced by another. A better approach is to try to understand your child’s need for clinging on to an external entity:
- Emotional reason. If your child suddenly develops an attachment to a toy or item, it could indicate an underlying emotional issue or that something could be troubling her. If this happens, you can gently ask her questions about what’s wrong or if she is feeling sad.
- Physical reason. If your child’s been exposed to violence or divorce or a death in the family, a comfort toy can provide a sense of security and safety.
- Personal reason. Sometimes the need for a comforter depends on a child’s personality. Children who are shy and self-conscious tend to hang onto comfort items longer than those who are confident and independent.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.