Security blankets (or teddy bears or any object) are a familiar feature of childhood. Known as “transitional objects,” these objects serve an important developmental purpose. Children rely on them to transition between the affection supplied by parents and primary caregivers and self-soothing.
Transitional objects are a natural and normal part of development. Most children will outgrow the need for them on their own between the ages of 2 and 5 and most experts recommend letting that process happen naturally. But there are ways that parents and teachers can help things along.
1. Have an understanding, tolerant approach—Having a transitional object is a sign of your child’s attempt to adapt to new situations and become more independent. Don’t be ashamed or allow your child to feel ashamed of their attachment.
2. Avoid putting a clock on the process—Have a strategy and apply it consistently, but be prepared to change the pace depending on how your child adapts. Deadlines will only add stress to the process, increasing the child’s need for the transitional object.
3. Give the object a home—It could be a hook on the wall just for Blankie or a special basket for Teddy to rest in. Make a permanent place for their treasured item to be when it isn’t in your child’s arms and somewhere the child will always know when to find it when it’s needed.
4. Let your child use the object whenever they want—but encourage them to leave it back in its place when they are done. Knowing they can always get it when they need to will help them let go—and their growing confidence will help them need it less and less.
5. Have specific times the child can have the item with them—such as the ride to school, nap time, and bedtime. As your child seems to detach successfully, lessen these to, say, only at bedtime.
6. Distract rather than remove—A child who’s hugging a blanket can’t stack blocks higher than their head or mush Play-Doh between their fingers. Offer the child activities that encourage the use of two free hands so relinquishing their object becomes a choice, not a punishment.
7. Offer a “travel size” substitute—This technique might work for some children who have already started to detach. For example, a child who is about to start kindergarten has a favorite teddy as a transitional object. Buying a small look-alike to clip to their backpack might “remind” them of Teddy when they are stressed without them needing to bring Teddy along.
8. Talk with your child’s teachers—If the child attends school or daycare, have a special place there for the transitional object too (like a cubby or backpack). Also talk to the child’s teacher about your strategy and goals. Most preschools and kindergartens have experience with transitional objects and policies in place to support children and parents.
9. It’s ok NOT to share—The exception to the rule, children should not be expected to share their transitional objects with playmates or siblings. Other children may be curious and ask to see or hold it, but your child needs to be able to make that decision. Parents and teachers should help children protect that right. Explain to curious playmates that some things are meant to be shared and others are not (then distract them with another toy or activity).
10. Enlist your child’s natural creativity and empathy—Give the object a story and a reason to stay put. Maybe Blankie is needed to help keep a child’s doll warm. Or Teddy is curious what it’s like to sleep in the child’s school cubby. This can help some children to feel better about that initial separation.
It’s important for parents to remember that a child’s attachment to a transitional object is real, valid, age appropriate, and beneficial. Any approach you take to help children detach should be measured and gradual. Abrupt removal of the object or cutting access too much, too fast is likely to backfire and make the process take much longer.
- “Security” blankets are really transitional objects that help the child learn to soothe themselves without a parent’s help.
- Transitional objects are a normal part of development, and there is no set age when a child should no longer need one.
- Most children start to detach from transitional objects on their own between 2-5 years old.
- If you decide to help your child to detach, take a slow, gradual, and tolerant approach.
I’m going to have to try some of these!!! My sons also love the ansel & anis swaddle and I have to keep buying new ones cause it gets so worn and ripped.
Lots of great tips. I think some children are much more attached than others, but these techniques seem like they can ease into giving it up.
My son loved a particular print of the aden anais swaddle blankets for the longest time – he dragged it around everywhere with me, along with his thumb sucking habit 🙂 We took the swaddle away when he was 2 and just recently broke his thumb sucking habit – he is 4 years old now. I will cherish that swaddle forever – it’s so worn! I showed it to him the other day and he just looked at it, smelled it and gave it back to me 🙂
I too cherish the remnants of my son’s old blankie. When he gave it up he gave it to me and asked me to save it for him. 🙂 Now he keeps a piece of it in his treasure box.
We have received some questions on Facebook about why kids should give up “blankie.” It is a great dialog to have and consider how it may be beneficial. It is important to know that not everyone has to give up “blankie” and they certainly may not need to do it now. As in all things, I would assess how this object impacts their life and yours. IF this is an object they love to sleep with and it brings comfort in troubling times there may not be an urgency to detach from it. If, however, they are so attached they can do nothing without it and it is getting in the way of being able to travel about easily, go to school, attend sleepovers, play with friends, or any other of the many activities and events that impact children and families, then it may be time to start pulling away from “blankie.” A lot of people, even adults, have an object or activity of comfort they use either at bedtime or simply to relax. Most would agree that we use items or engage in these activities only at appropriate times. It is not necessarily recommended that we dispose of the “blankie” altogether; instead, as the kids get older try to encourage them to use the “blankie” at appropriate times and places. That is for you as their parents to decide where and when that is. In time, most children will out grow this stage on their own. If you are struggling or concerned with how and why your child may be “too attached” to a particular item, then you can always contact a pediatric behavioral health provider for assistance or use Ask Bundoo at bundoo.com/ask.
What a great article! Thanks for the tips! We just took my sons “Nuk” last week and now we’re moving onto the blankets (he has two that he’s attached to!)…I don’t want to try to push too much too soon, so this article really helped me get an idea on how to go about approaching it. I think I’m going to use the “distract and remove” technique right away…as soon as he gets tired I’ll slip it away…before he knows it, it’s gone and he won’t notice (hopefully!) Thanks!
all 3 of my girls had a Blankie as a child. one still has her own at 34! her sister’s bought her a king size blanket with the satin trim but yet she’s the one who shakes her head at her 3 yr old who can sleep without HIS!!!
My son is 16 months and knows that the only time he is allowed to have his blanket is during naps and bedtime. We have taught him that the blanket stays in his crib when it is time to get up.
Great information i will pass this on to my son and daughter-in-law my granddaughter wont let her blankie go they will love these helpful tips… THANKS!
Having a blankie still at 5 is no problem. My son is 11 and still sleeps with his favorite blankie. Your daughter has tied together the blankie and thumb sucking as a way of self soothing. Thumb sucking can have negative effects on her orthodontically speaking. I would not suggest taking the blankie away, but try to bring to her attention that she is sucking her thumb when it happens. The sooner that habit can be broken the better. Here is a link to some helpful tips by our own Dr. Rivers:
my daughter is 5 and still loves her blankie , I don’t mind. What bothers me is that as soon as blankie is in her hands she tarts sucking her thumb!
Mine too! This is so hard…I often wonder if we should lose the blankie. But it would be so tough on her!