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Your Child Today: Baby

Blankies and Bears: The Comfort Connection

When he was a baby, my youngest brother rubbed an earlobe for comfort? his own or one nearby.

Even if he was sitting next to a stranger in church, my brother would sometimes reach up for an unknown ear. Of course, the advantage was that his soothing object was never misplaced. And any parent who?s spent hours searching for a lost blankie or a child?s favorite teddy bear knows that an attached comfort object is a real plus.

Although the idea of comfort objects seems to convey dependency, the opposite is true. When your child attaches himself to a favorite toy or pillow, he?s actually taking a first step toward independence. According to psychologists, comfort objects are healthy attachments formed by children who tend to be emotionally sensitive. For your baby, that pacifier or well-loved Winnie-the-Pooh represents you and the security and comfort you provide. The difference is that your child has control over the pacifier and is able to use it when you?re not available. This enables him to become less dependent upon you as he gets older.

Experts encourage parents to accept and support a child?s connection with a comfort object. "It?s an emotionally healthy development," says physician Michael Flanagan. "Your child is establishing her independence in a progressive way and his blankie facilitates his growth."

Comfort objects also provide babies with a piece of what?s familiar when they face a new situation. For many babies, a blanket is the favored object. That blanket then becomes a valuable aid when he needs to adjust to an unfamiliar church nursery or learn to sleep in a new crib.

By the time your baby is a year old, it?s likely she?ll have formed a passionate attachment to some toy or blanket. I?ve known parents who have tried to "encourage" their child?s choice of a comfort object. For instance, parents might try to get their baby to tote around the nice clean teddy bear instead of the ratty one that?s missing an eye. But in truth, parents have little influence over what their child comes to treasure.

There is little evidence to support the theory that comfort objects are harmful to children. According to a study by Sandra L. Lookabaugh and Victoria R. Fu, published in The Journal of Genetic Psychology, children who use objects to cope with stress become as effective at coping as those who don?t. As your child grows, however, you might find that his soother begins to interfere with his routine or interactions with others. If that happens, you can gently establish some restrictions.

For example, if you?re tired of retracing a day?s worth of errands to find the beloved Pooh that fell out of the grocery cart, you can say, "From now on, when we go to the grocery store, Pooh needs to wait in the car."

Whether it?s a doll or an earlobe, a comfort object is an important part of your child?s life. And it provides more than just comfort, it gives your baby a little bit of you, even when you?re not there.

?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Writer, educator, mother of three

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