Children latch on to security blankets as they near toddler age.

Understanding Children's Attachment to Security Blankets

by Gail Sessoms

If you have had a tug-of-war with your child over a dirty, tattered piece of cloth in front of a day care or preschool building, you know the power of the security blanket. No amount of cajoling convinces your child to relax his kung-fu grip on his “lovie” or “blankie.” You imagine him in high school rubbing that piece of blanket on his face while writing lecture notes. The American Academy of Pediatrics, on its website HealthyChildren.org, assures parents that the security blanket is a healthy and normal part of early childhood development that most likely will disappear well before your child marries.

1. Transitional Objects

The security blanket is what childhood development experts call "transitional objects," which are objects that help children transition from the familiar to the unknown or from dependence to self-sufficiency. Children use transitional objects to relieve anxiety and to relax. Attachments to transitional objects -- which are usually soft items, like an old diaper, doll, stuffed animal, or blanket -- happen around 8 to 12 months of age. Not only is there nothing harmful about the security blanket, child development experts offer tips on ways parents can encourage children to develop attachments to transitional objects.

2. Developmental Purpose

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that security blanket is proof that your kid is right on track for healthy emotional development. In addition to practice forming deep attachments, the security blanket actually represents you and the sense of safety and comfort your child feels in your presence. She might need her security blanket more when you are away, when she is ill or afraid, while falling asleep or when she is in an unfamiliar place.

3. Function and Use

Your child's security blanket has your smell since he holds the blanket when he is with you. The blanket also has the child’s smell and reminds him of home. Your child might hold his security blanket near his mouth and nose, suck his thumb, and stroke the blanket, all of which makes it more difficult to remember that a transitional object does not mean he is insecure or that you are a bad parent. Remind worried onlookers that his sniffing his little blanket, while it might seem strange, is a reminder that he has very little control in his rapidly changing world. He is comforting himself and that is a good thing.

4. Challenges

As any parent whose child has misplaced his security blanket knows, there are challenges with the transitional object. You might have to contend with a meltdown if you leave the security blanket at home during an outing or if you have washed the blanket and have laundered its comforting smells. No amount of statements like, “It’s all nice and clean now” or “It smells like violets and daffodils” will help. It is important to remember that the security blanket represents a deep attachment that requires finesse to manage. You might be able to launder on very rare occasions, such as if it is very dirty or has vomit all over it.

5. Letting Go of the Blanket

As child gets older, find ways to help him let go of the security blanket, or at least to stop taking it out in public. Limit the times he can have the blanket to when he is at home or when he is sleeping. If the security blanket is still around when your child starts day care or preschool, you might have to convince staff that a weaning period is necessary. Get him to agree to use it only at naptime when at daycare. Set aside time to spend with just him to help diminish reliance on the blanket. In an article on Parenting.com, Dr. William Sears answers questions, stating that it is important to allow the child to give up the security blanket when he is ready.

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