The indispensible comfort item

teddy bear, boy, comfort
A treasured item helps children learn to self-soothe.

Do yourself a favor. If your child has not already attached to a special stuffed animal, blanket or small toy, keep offering one anyway — at bedtime, when you’re leaving the house or when your child is angry or sad.

We all need to learn to self-soothe. Our loved ones are not always available to us. When children have no comfort item, and only use mom or dad to help them deal with uncomfortable feelings, they can become increasingly anxious as they grow older and need to be away from those important people, or are angry at them.

The fact that Christopher Robin was alone sometimes with Pooh does not mean he had a bad mommy. It means she found a way to help him feel safe and comforted when she was unavailable. Children have a lot of control over the words their bear says to them (and they are just the right words) or the feel their blanket gives them (and it is just the right feel).

Parents want their children to know they are always there to help. They never want their children to feel abandoned or neglected. But sometimes they become the only way children calm themselves or feel safe. Children who become attached to an item have more resources for coping and can take more risks bravely when parents are in the next room, out for the evening or not at daycare.

Sometimes an animal plush toy can help a child say things that are hard to say. When a 3-year-old I know first began having to tell her parent why she had been sent to time-out, she would say, “Ask Kitty.” When asked, Kitty would explain (with the child speaking for her) what the misbehavior had been.

Preschool children live in an ocean of time and a world where things happen in their minds unexpectedly, randomly and for arbitrary reasons. Even in the most predictable of young lives, with routines that are regular and parents who are logical and reasonable, there are times and reasons for children to feel inconsolable, extremely confused, outraged, or fearful.

Here are times to make sure children have their special friends:

  • bedtime
  • naptime
  • when they are going to school (even if the rule is to keep it in the cubby)
  • when they are going to visit friends or other family members
  • when the babysitter comes
  • during a “time out”
  • when they are going into another room of the house to get something and no one else is in that other room
  • when the family takes a car, plane, or bus trip
  • at the doctor’s office

Some children prefer a toy set of keys, a toy cell phone or a special car that fits into a pocket instead of a “huggy” kind of toy. Some children like something they can fiddle with in their hands. Let your child pick. Children have reasons that have to do with their histories and sometimes choose unusual friends for protection and friendship.

Do your child a favor and never make fun of the special toy. Help the child remember it or bring it for them. In the end, the child will feel closer to you because you have given them an aid for dealing with independence. Also, you have given yourself the reassurance that they have a coping partner when you take some space for yourself. You can say to the special friend, “Keep my little one safe when she hugs you or holds you” and watch your child smile.