Security Blankets and Other Comfort Objects

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Comfort Objects

A comfort object, transitional object, or security blanket as it is commonly called is an item that a child, usually 4 to 6 months old, uses to help separate itself from its mother.

Psychologist Donald Winnicott, an object relations theorist, first introduced the concept of a transitional object. He contends that these objects support the idea of “not me” and help make the transition to the world as an independent self a little easier. This is an important psychological transition for a baby. Up until this point the child has not known itself to be anything separate from its mother. The child uses the object to feel secure during this very scary and stark realization.

He did not suggest that the phenomenon was at all negative. Transitional objects are necessary in the development of a child and, in fact, the absence of a transitional object might possibly herald problems with forming close relationships as an adult.

However, when the child does not use the object as “transitional” and instead becomes attached to it – think Linus or any 3 or 4 year old still sucking a pacifier – there might be some underlying psychological issues, but even then, not necessarily.

Comfort Objects Relieve Stress

Essentially, the reason children adopt the transitional object in the first place is because it relives stress. But wait a minute. Stress? Really? Beyond the transitional period of separation from the parent and the developing concept of “not me” why is the little baby so stressed out?

Well, one answer is that the world is big and scary and unknown and dark and noisy… While these are pretty legitimate stressors for a child, a parent should consider if there are other significant stressors in the child’s life such as mom going away to work after a few weeks or months, the disappearance of familiar things or people, parents who fight or are stressed out themselves, etc.

Attachment Parenting and Comfort Objects

Research seems to show that kids know what they’re doing with comfort objects, that they use them when they need them.

Ideally, parents should encourage more attachment with their children and should try to reduce stress in the house. After that, I think it’s okay to allow them to find their own (appropriate) ways to comfort themselves.

“Dr. Horton, a psychiatrist at the Child Guidance Center in Meriden, Conn., said, ‘’Psychoanalysis has focused too much on sexuality and aggression, but the ability to give solace to oneself is the basis of such major positive feelings as joy, awe, forgiveness and generosity.’” – from NYT

“Richard H. Passman, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, initially set out to determine whether children with secure attachments to their mothers were more or less likely to have a security blanket. He found no link at all between the strength of the mother-child relationship and the passionate love of a toddler for his blanky. But surprisingly, researchers did find that children who were both insecurely attached to their mothers and strongly attached to their blankies seemed to adjust better to an anxiety-producing situation. ‘For these children, the blanket promoted play, exploration and non-distress in their mothers’ absence,’ Passman says.” – from psychology today

However, all this research doesn’t stop me from wondering about kids in traditional cultures. Kids who eat a clean diet, who sleep with their parents, are carried by their parents, nurse for years, have lots of loving family around at all times might not have much need to comfort themselves in this same way. I wonder if part of the problem for kids in our society is how early they are broken off from their mothers and, possibly, the emotional difficulties brought on by a bad diet.

Author: Peggy the Primal Parent

The blog owner!

41 Comments

  1. My son and daughter live with their father and soon-to-be-step-mother in a high stress, borderline abusive lifestyle. Unfortunately, laws where I live aren’t very helpful and they can’t yet be removed from his home. I’ve noticed particularily with my daughter, who’s 5 and doesn’t know much else, she is very attached to many things – actually everything that comes into contact with her. We’ve had many talks about paper scraps and lint balls from daycare, she just can’t let go. She does have one special blankie she used to take from my house to her dad’s but now it’s only safe at my place (not sure why). She calms down once she’s been with me for awhile, but it seems to be that that transition is really hard for her to make (maybe that’s just me being an overemotional Mom). When I am with my kids, I’m usually very close to them.

    I think it’s an interesting subject. My older son never really had anything he was attached to, although admittedly his life is just as stressful as his sister’s. Maybe it’s just that he had more time living with me than his sister?

    • Jennifer,

      I am so sorry to hear that about you kids. Sounds like you have struggles far beyond most of our food issues. Hopefully those comfort abjects will pull her through and she’ll be okay in the end. I guess that’s the idea behind them, right?

      • Oh yeah I didn’t mean that like “be sad for my kids” just to illustrate that high stress needs high stress relief. I know my kids will be okay – not perfect but okay (at least… I can’t do much more than I currently am). Blankie seems to be a stand in for myself, since I can’t always be in physical contact with her but it is interesting since so many people put special importance on stress relief for adults.

        Given my current situation, I do spend an awful amount of time contemplating my kids’ moods and behaviors.

  2. My daughter is only 14mo and seems okay. She has attached to a certain type of fabric but not to the point that it is a major issue if she doesn’t have it. The only times we have issues with it are when she’s tired and int he car but doesn’t have her fabric of choice (we have a lot of blankets witht his fabric and a few stuffed toys so it’s the fabric for sure-not the object itself).

    I feel that if she needs something like this as she grows then I will not stop her from having them no matter her age. Of course it helps that I homeschool (as much as you can for a toddler) and she isn’t around peer pressure. I also feel that despite our lack of security over our place of residence (a lot of moving recently) she does well because she is attached to mom and dad (and, to a lesser extent, all of her grandparents).

    That said, I was a thumb sucker until age 9 and still need my old teddy bear during extremely stressful times.

  3. I am 27 and still sleep with my “blankie” from when I was a kid. It helped me destress then and it helps trigger sleep for me now. I can sleep well without it, but it much easier and more pleasant to fall asleep with it. I also tend to use it as my pillow under my head/neck as I’m not much of a pillow fan. I think I’m pretty normal, successful adult, married….but I still like my blankie.

    Oh and my parents were always VERY worried about it, but in the end figured it wasn’t hurting. Plus a girl’s parents down the street took hers away and threw it away and she told me about it. I went home crying to my mom how unfair and mean it was. I think they were scared to just take mine away and I’m happy they didn’t. While it wouldn’t be traumatic now to lose it, just sad, it would have been traumatic back then.

  4. I agree, I think that when you nurse on demand, sleep with your children, and just generally respect and respond to their needs they have less need for “transitional objects.” I nursed all three of my kids past the 3 year mark and co-slept even longer. None of my kids ever had a special item … my running joke has always been that my kids’ blankies were my breasts. I have thought about this subject many times, nice to hear someone else has come to similar conclusions.

  5. Without knowing the circumstances of Enrico’s household it is difficult to provide any specific recommendations.

    I can say from my experience with my two children (now 12 and 10) the value placed on particular objects directed correlated with the amount those objects were marketed to them. I.E. Elmo was important because he was on Sesame Street and he was on commercials. This changed when we stopped chronic TV watching at our house.

    Once we developed new habits, there are things that become favorites but those come and go, and in general these things promote interaction. They are games, toys and other things that they can play with each other and their friends.

    Additionally, proactively limiting (or trying to limit) simple carbs and eating high protein has made a huge difference in temperament and emotional development. The effect in our house cannot be overstated. Our family consists of four articulate, headstrong people, so the dynamic can be difficult if people are all over the place with their moods.

    In all, if Enrico is modeling good and principled character traits, good eating habits and genuinely loves his children (since he has written it is safe to say he does) then I wouldn’t worry about his kids attachment to their blankets. Kids grow into and out of things that adults, so far removed from the good ole days, fail to understand. :)

  6. I am also a strong advocate of attachment parenting, and we practice it as best we can in our house. My boys (almost 5 and 2) have both nursed until they were over two years old, they still sleep with us almost every night, I wore them almost constantly until they were too heavy, and I am a full-time stay-at-home mom. I have tried, unsuccessfully, a few times to get my kids to attach to an object but they were just never interested and seemed to prefer me instead. They didn’t take pacifiers, they don’t have a favorite blanket, and they don’t even like stuffed animals or dolls. I don’t know if it’s just their personalities or if it’s how they were parented, but I have wondered a few times.

  7. +1 here on still sleeping with the blankie, mine is called “Boppy” though. ;-)

    I’m 33 and relatively well adjusted. Like Kristen, I can sleep without it, but prefer to sleep with it.

    My aunt had her special “Pilly” until she was about 50 and it fell off her boat in the middle of the ocean. So she never gave it up willingly!

    Suprisingly, I’ve run into several adults who still have strong attachments to their security blankie/stuffed animal/pillow/etc…

  8. Have you ever read The Continuum Concept? I think you’d really like it.
    My son hasn’t had any transitional objects at all. He’s two and still nursing and cosleeping. He loves his new baby sister and is overall a happy guy minus when he’s tired or hungry or just trying to understand boundaries. I personally would rather have my kids attachment to be towards me or my husband.

  9. I’m 27, and I also usually still sleep with my Santa bear (my boyfriend doesn’t mind). I have at times tried going without but find it less comfortable. He was very important to me growing up, since I’ve had him from my first memory and he moved with me at 6. He has also lived with me recently in foreign countries, which was comforting. I think most of my girl friends still have their bears, but I dont know if they’re as attached as I am. I anticipate having him forever, though I do wonder why my future children will think of it!

  10. My daughter is now 7 but she never became attatched to a doll, blankie or pacifier of any kind, or anything else. I nursed her for 4 years, she sleeps with us still (although she spent the first 2 years sleeping in her crib :( ) I homeschool her, and she has always eaten lots of good protein & fats w/out sugar, gluten and dairy etc. I never had a blankie or anything either, but I don’t think they are problematic either. Taking away something that causes such comfort to a child (or adult) would be the problem! :)

  11. I usually just read but this post made me want to respond. I have 3 children, boy-11, girl-10, and boy-7. My daughter is the only one who is attached, still, to a blanket. She loves the texture and smell and I’m totally fine with it. I’ve been a SAHM from day one, nursed all of my kids until they weaned themselves, varying ages with each child. However, we never co-slept. It’s just how my husband and I choose to run our household and the kids have always gone to bed with no problem, sleep through the night smashingly, and are well-adjusted children. My sister, 34yo, still has a special pillow that she has to have each night and will pack it in her suitcase. So I guess I’m used to the attachment to a certain object during sleep/relaxation. Every person in this world has their own coping mechanism even if they have the most “normal” life!

  12. I wouldn’t say I’m attached to a particular object but I have a “cuddle”. I like having a small pillow that I can curl around, I’ve had several different pillows over the years that have been my cuddle. Only times I ever feel like I really *need* it to sleep is when I’m not feeling well

  13. I cannot contribute much to the discussion around comfort objects as my daughter doesn`t use any but I am extremely relieved that there are other parents with kids the same age or even older than mine that still co-sleep. My 2-years-old still sleeps in our (huge) bed. It is no problem neither for my husband nor for myself but we usually avoid the issue as we are criticized a lot (“She needs to learn to sleep alone”, “You need to insist on that she sleeps in her own bedroom” etc.). I do not think so. I think it is fine if kids are comfortable in sleeping in their own room and it is perfect if they can sleep alone. But my daughter is very already verbal, she insists on sleeping with us. We offer her frequently to sleep in her own room but she refuses. Why make her? How to explain a toddler that mommy and daddy needn´t be alone and might share a room at night but she has to be separated? She is a very confident and strong kid and I think it is due to our not forcing her into aspects of separation she is just not yet ready for!

    • Iris,
      That is awesome. I want my kids to sleep with me until they ask to have their own space. They are only small once. When I was scared as a kid sometimes my dad would let me sleep with him (it was just me and him, my mom died when I was 6) and I always felt so happy and slept so well. I want my kids to feel secure when they leave my bed. I always felt weird in my own room, and even before I got married I loved having roommates because I just liked having someone else around when I slept.
      Also, my best friend was from Thailand where they do things more attachment parent like just naturally. She said she always slept with her mom until sshe saw other kids with their own rooms and she said she begged her mom to have her own room. So I believe they do grow out of it on their own just happens at different times for each kid. And think of real ‘primal’ parents who lived in tribes…. They always slept together. :)

  14. Thank you, Cassie! People around me constantly let me know about their ideas about how to make her sleep in her room and do not understand that we are totally okay with how things are right know. I do not expect her to sleep with us when she is in high school :-). She never has nightmares, sometimes giggles in her sleep and sleeps as peacefully as a mother could wish for her child. I think the road to independence is a gradual process and modern education methods often aim at cutting the bond to early and to forcefully…

  15. Just found your blog today while researching going grain free. I have Crohn’s and by going organic I’m off one med, hoping to get off the other. But I digress. I still have a teddy bear given to me the year my mother remarried, and a blanket that was given to me when I was born. I can’t bear to part with them because they are a part of who I am. They have been with me through rather pivotal moments or simply, always been there. The blanket really needs to go. Last Christmas my Mom gave me a quilt made from all my old t-shirts from college and high school. It is super special. More so than the tattered blanket. I have considered taking part of the blanket and edging the quilt in it so that I can have both. :) And I think I am relatively well adjusted. I think some attachment is normal. Kind of like our adult attachment to photos and things. Some memories I simply keep in my head and the thought of something tangible to remember the memory becomes a source of stress. Other things, especially soft, comforting things, manage to stick around.

    • This is interesting to me because I’ve never been attached to things. I got into the habit of burning all of my journals when I was a teenager. I have only a few pictures of myself when I was a kid. I had a trunk of things from my high school and college days that I had left at my parents house for over a decade. I went through it a few months ago and, while it was interesting, I just threw it all away. I’ve always liked keeping my attachment to things at a minimum. But that’s just me. I think we’re all different. It’s kind of my thing to get rid of stuff, to move around a lot, but not everyone is like that.

  16. I have three kids who still sleep in the family bed…never had an attachment item…perhaps because we haven’t pushed separating? I know I had a special blankie when I was little…I still have it in fact so I’ll be ok with them having one when/if they ever do ;-)

  17. I know I am a little late to the discussion, but have enjoyed reading everyone’s perspectives and wanted to add mine. I have two daughters – a 10 year old and an almost two year old. My 10 year old has never been attached to anything. She had a pacifier until she handed it to me when she was one, saying “no” – and that was the end of that. Never wanted it again. My younger daughter is a completely different story. She has both a pacifier and a blankie that she is completely attached to, both for bed time and car rides. Like my older daughter did when she was her age (long since outgrown it), my younger daughter sleeps with my husband and I every night. It’s funny too, because she sleeps in her crib for naps, but isn’t the least bit interested in being anywhere but our bed for night time sleeping. We are totally okay with this and enjoy the snuggles and I now really miss with my older daughter. I sometimes worry about how important these items are to her and wonder why she has such different feelings about them than my older daughter did at the same age. Also, for what it is worth, they were both breastfed until they weended themselves and my younger daughter sometimes liked to try to breastfeed with her pacifier in her mouth – quite the sight! I wonder if it just boils down to personalities in general. My older daughter is very easy going while my younger daughter is a little more high strung, one perfectly mirroring my husband’s temperment and the other, mine. Either way, they have both been raised in the same environment, with the same diets and affection and family rules…Just thought I’d share!

    • Thanks for sharing! It’s a lesson maybe not to get too carried away with trying to figure out what’s going on, because nothing may be. Sometimes it probably does boil down to personalities and, as parents, we have figure out if it’s just that or if it is indeed something deeper.

  18. I would love to hear about how you transitioned Evelyn after co-sleeping with her after a year! I feel like that’s definitely the right way to do it but have heard so many horror stories about parents not being able to break that cycle and get the child to sleep in their own room. I don’t want to have to deal with that. Would you tell me about that transitional period please? Or if you have any great articles/books about it that would be great too!

    Thanks!

    • For us it wasn’t a problem at all because Evelyn has such an independent nature (I guess). All children are probably very different in how well they deal with sleeping alone. Evelyn always slept in her crib alone during nap time and, in fact, I wouldn’t even stay with her until she fell asleep. I would stay with her for a few moments, sing her a song, and then leave her to fall asleep on her own. Also, when I put her down for the night it was the same. I didn’t go to sleep with her. So she was already used to being alone, at least some of the time, when sleeping.

      When she was 7 or 8 months old we moved into a new house and gave her her own room. I remember sleeping with her on occasion because it was wonderful to have her next to me and letting her sleep by herself at other times, because it was also wonderful to have some privacy. Maybe all of this is what made it easy for us. She was used to sleeping alone, to some degree, early on.

      I have heard that many parents leave the door open so that the child feels like they are still a part of things even when they are going to sleep.

      At the moment I can’t think of any articles or books I have read on the subject. If something comes to mind I will include it though.

  19. I would like you to share your thoughts after reading this because I’ve never shared so much of myself with anyone.

    I am a 26 year old male who sleeps with both a security blanket and a teddy bear. With that said I would like to state that I even still tell my teddy how much I love him from time to time(I grew up an only child) but I don’t absolutely need either of them to sleep but it sure helps because I’m a self diagnosed insomniac. My closest friends don’t know I sleep with either and that is a dark fear of mine to be ridiculed over something I hold so dear to my heart. I only shared my secret with my girlfriends over the years and I have found in every relationship I’ve been in it has shown the affectionate side of me when I surprise the girl with my blanket and teddy. I am a pretty intimidating person to meet, usually having an unreadable expression and give off an aura of @$$HOLE unless I get a good gut feeling about your personality otherwise trust has to earned which almost never happens.

    So thats the short profile of who I am, next comes my teenage years which I learned more about life than most people do in their own life. Running “hard” drugs with certain family at such a critical stage in self-development has obviously effected who I am, seeing dope heads smoking in front of their children, seeing how skinny the kids are because the junkies always feed their habit. Realizing that no matter how much money you came up on it never made those memories any better. I learned life isn’t always sunny, its rarely sunny at best. I could see corruption in everything, the rose tinted shades of innocense ripped and smashed by unseen hands. I lost the ability to see the good that was there because I was so focused on hating the bad.

    All this I was well aware of at age 14. When I got into junior high I seperated myself from just about everyone and this is when I started to shut everyone out even my parents who always loved me dearly and I wasn’t on drugs. The brutal slam into the dark reality that is life just made me want to disappear entirely. I was still a fantastic student up until sophmore year when I got into the drugs. My mind slipping faster than my grades I couldn’t get over how blind my fellow pupils were. How can you be caught up in drama that governs whos whos and why we all should hate Jane Doe for whatever. It eventually became a stream of white noise that produced wretched headaches. This system of an education institution wouldn’t work for me. I never expressed any of these ideas but my face and silent stare was enough to have my teachers start sending me to the school counselors, bad move on their part. I would rip apart every angle they tried to get me to talk about my feelings, I rather enjoyed it and setup a weekly schedule where I would go see my counselor.

    I managed to squeak by and get my diploma, using the counselors to get out of a lot of assignments. I was always a skinny kid but I could tell I was shrinking, my cheeks sinking in and my ribcage protruding. So young why was I doing this to myself I asked my Teddy one morning, him staring back at me with his ever loving smile just made something in me snap and I cried from morning until weeping slumber. The next morning I quit cold turkey, I didn’t even have withdrawls or second thoughts. I started focusing and trying to figure out what to do with my life. Got back into all my athletics and eating right, socializing a little more and trying to connect with my family more. I was fairly happy inside, started maturing into a man. Found a true love in motorcycles and had friends that followed my lead. I found a true passion in riding and so did my best friend, we wanted to be mechanics and had it all planned out. He killed himself on his sportbike not long after.

    That was in 2009 and its 2012 now. The bottle, the hundreds of bottles, thousands of cans of beer and endless nightmares. I ruined the relationship with my soon to be wife. I thought I had felt the darkest feelings life had to throw at me but I never experienced someone close to me die. Don’t get me wrong I have had great experiences and laughs since he died but I believe Rambo said it best, “You just don’t turn it off”.

    If your still reading you have to be thinking how did this guy just sum up his life in this blog about security blankets? I didn’t plan going this deep into it all, looks like when you bottle up everything in life and don’t want to burden the ones you love, you can always talk to your teddy bear and he will always have a comforting smile and hug. Live in the dark for most of your life and you get use to the dark places and my blankey is my camoflauge when in the abyss. The little bit of comfort I allowed myself to have was always my bear and blanket, calming me down so I didn’t take the easy way out. So the question arises out of the obvious fact I have some deep problems, would I have managed better if I learned to let them go earlier in life or did holding on to them keep my head above water for this long??

    I have been doing a lot better FYI Thanks for Your Time….

  20. This is an old post, but very relevant to me at this moment, so I’ll comment anyway! I’m so glad I ran across this post. Yesterday, I thought I could try to break my 2 1/2 year old from sleeping with a bottle of water. We did what everyone we know says to do – let her cry and figure it out. We actually did it with the “Ferber method” where you check on the kid… whatever, it still feels like torturing the child to me.
    I have a very smart, happy toddler but she is very dependent on me. Fortunately, I get to be home with her all day. I knew in my heart she isn’t ready to give up this comfort object, but I put her through two hours of crying anyway. I did this when she was 11 months old, too, and after two weeks of doing what we were supposed to do, the doctor told us to stop and find another way. That’s when the bottle was originally introduced. I think it was that experience that made me realize last night that this is still the wrong thing for us to do with our daughter.
    Anyway, reading this post has really made sense to me. I wanted to do the attachment parenting thing all the way, but I suffered pretty severe postpartum depression (I was the exact opposite of paleo back then and I’m sure that was why it happened that way). It was very hard for me to handle an infant almost completely on my own and I did the best I could do under that circumstance, but yes I think it affected her deeply.
    About a year after she was born, I went paleo and the depression lifted. Now I feel like I am capable of being the parent I want to be, but the first year of her life had passed at this point. Also, all that depression almost destroyed my marriage and my husband and I have spent this year in therapy together working out a lot of issues. I’m sure she’s aware of a lot of that stress also. Living in a studio apartment together during a lot of this didn’t allow for space for us to have our adult issues totally separate and I’m sure she realized there was stress there, too.
    And it makes sense that she isn’t ready now either. I’m pregnant again and just went through 3 months of day and night sickness that made me practically worthless. We stopped going to the park everyday – we’d barely make it to the backyard some days. I stopped treating meal times as a fun time we spend together preparing food – I could barely cook at all. Basically, I just shut down and tried to survive without doing too much damage to my paleo diet. My husband picked up the slack and spent less time playing with her, and he’s much more stressed out these days because of the extra workload on top of his already stressful job. And, during this time we also moved her out of a crib and into a toddler bed after she fell climbing out. All this stuff is just getting under control now. No wonder this child still needs this comfort object!
    I feel much better about this situation after reading this post, and it gives me ideas on what I really need to be focusing on. Not her attachment to this bottle, but her security and level of stress she feels and is exposed to. Thanks for posting this way in the past. It definitely has me thinking of a more positive way to be a parent to my child (and future new baby).

  21. Yes, we coslept with our son until we transitioned him to a toddler bed. Even though the bed was in our room, he attached himself to a bear. As soon as we started cosleeping again, the attachment to the bear dropped. I would definitely say that an attachment to an object is a sign of too early a separation. It also paired with more defiant behavior. Definitely a sign if unhealthy attachment. We started cosleeping again soon after.

  22. I’m working my way through this site, so I just had to comment here. I still have two stuffed toys from when I was little: a stuffed dog that my parents bought for the baby before I came along (sadly ended in a miscarriage), and a small stuffed hedgehog that my dad bought for me when I was 12 and went into a full epileptic seizure from playing a video game. I’m about to turn 30, and those two toys will continue to go with me everywhere because they’ve always been there. I don’t need them, but now they are just full of warm memories.

    My husband also has a baby blanket that his grandmother knit for him. The weird thing about that one is when his mom gets all teary-eyed looking at it because that’s “grandma’s blanket.” Well, no, it’s my husband’s blanket, always has been, always will be, and one of those items that we store just to have.

  23. I was attached to a blankie as a child but at age two when my mom decided she didn’t like dragging around the blankie on the floor threatens to burn it if I dragged it on the floor again. Of course I did, so she burned it, making me watch!
    All 3 of my kids had some sort of comfort item which were all abandoned by an early age on their own cognition .

    I feel my moms actions traumatized me.

  24. I don’t think it’s a sign of anything negative for a child to have a comfort item/ activity( my middle son sucked on his own tongue, like you see cats or dogs sometime do in their sleep) which leads me to think the thumb or tongue sucking actions are due to too early weaning… But my oldest weaned himself. My middle son may have been weaned too soon but they both did it before being weaned.

  25. I would be very interested in reading your references used to come up with all this. Could you send them to me? or make them available here?
    thx!

  26. Is it normal for a twelve year old to have one