The Lovey: Lots to Love
Many children have a favorite stuffed animal, blanket or other ‘lovey’ they adore, and bring almost everywhere.
God forbid this object gets lost or left at home. Many moms may wonder if this kind of strong attachment is good for their little one. Rest assured, an attachment to a ‘lovey’ or ‘wubbie’ is, most likely, healthy and normal. We turned to the experts for the down-low on the baby-lovey bond:
Practice Makes Perfect
Between the ages of about 18 months and three years, all children must begin a process of internalizing the sense of security they’ve received from their parents so they can also feel secure alone, and with other people. In fact, striking a healthy balance between dependence and independence is a process they’ll engage in throughout their lives, and gravitating toward a ‘lovey’ often represents the first step in this process. Dr. Gayle Peterson, a family therapist in Northern California who specializes in pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, explains, “By transferring their feelings of security from their parents to a security object, children are actually practicing feeling secure on their own. They’re practicing self-soothing, a skill which ultimately prevents anxiety disorders.”
Share the Love, Mom
“Dr. Gayle,” as her clients call her, approaches child and family development from a foundation based in attachment theory. While most of the parents she works with appreciate the importance of healthy attachment in children, some of them misinterpret what this really means. “Parents might think their child’s ‘lovey’ is a bad thing – they think their children are only supposed to be attached to Mom and Dad,” Dr. Gayle, who’s also a mother of two, says. “But children want and need to become interdependent. To do so, they need to be capable of transferring that healthy bond they’ve formed with their parents to others throughout life.” By initially transferring this bond to a blankie, they’re building a foundation that will lead to healthy relationships later in life.
Encourage the Human Connection
It’s important, however, for parents to understand their child’s lovey is a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the human bonds a baby shares with parents and close caregivers. “Parents can use a transitional object, like a blankie, to encourage their connection with their child,” says Dr. Karen Walant, a Connecticut-based author, psychotherapist and lecturer in the areas of attachment research and parenting. “If mom sprays a bit of her regular perfume on the object, for example, she’s helping to create her child’s association between the object and herself. She provides a way for the child to take the parental bond, and the sense of security it provides, with him when his mother is, say, away at work.”
A lovey can also ease stress caused by major changes in the child’s environment, like moving to a new home, by providing a sense of consistency amidst the change. “Parents should not use a lovey as a way to avoid interacting with a child, when what he really wants and needs is his parents’ attention. But using it to strengthen and maintain the parent-child bond is helpful. ” Dr. Walant, a mom of three, says. “A lovey should make a child feel close to the parent, not far away. That’s the distinction.”
Bed Time, Blankies and Bears (Oh My!)
“A blankie is often chosen as a lovey because the blanket is already present in a child’s comforting sleep environment,” Dr. Gayle says. “She’s bonded to it simply because it’s there. This is what children do naturally.” Of course, many children tote their lovies along when they’re wide awake, as well. If dragging a blanket all over a playground or supermarket proves cumbersome and inconvenient for baby or mom, Dr. Gayle suggests providing a replacement object for the child to bond with instead. “You might say, ‘the blankie is for home; let’s bring this beanie bear with us instead,’” she says. “Most children will be comfortable exchanging one object for another in this situation because their parents have recognized and acknowledged their needs.”
How Old Is Too Old?
Most children leave their loveys behind by age three or so, but don’t stress it if yours hasn’t yet. “There’s nothing wrong with having these dependencies,” says Dr. Gayle. “They’ll let go at some point.” It’s not necessary to take the objects from your children; it’s not as if they’ll head off to college bringing a stuffed bear along to every class.” In fact, many people do cherish their lovies – though certainly with more nostalgia than actual need – into adulthood.
Watch Your Baby Bloom
Allowing your child to engage in the self-led process of self-soothing is the best way to help her develop a healthy ability to care for herself as her world expands. “We never get to a point where we aren’t dependent anymore, and are therefore ‘successful’,” Dr. Gayle says. “Young childrens’ dependencies on loveys aren’t something for parents to be afraid of. Parents especially shouldn’t feel ashamed of their kids’ attachments, or make their children feel shame around them.” An ability to find comfort, in objects and in others, will continue throughout life. Seeing our kids do this is natural and normal. It’s a good thing!”