“Did it come yet?” my 7-year-old son, Teddy, asked — again. He’d been asking this question several times a day for the past two days, as he waited (not so patiently) for the mailman to deliver a valuable package — his Blankie. (And yes, it is Blankie with a capital B.)
Teddy left this ratty, stinky rag at his grandma’s house over the weekend and has asked no less than 56 times about its whereabouts in the past couple days. Bedtimes are the worst because he has trouble falling asleep without it.
Both of my children have Blankies, and I can count on my hands the number of nights they have slept without them. In fact, until he was almost 10, my older son Jackson slept with his Blankie literally every single night.
Any time Jackson was nervous or tired or sad, he would also cling to that old rag, rubbing it against his nose while he sucked his thumb. (Yes, you read that right. He sucked his thumb until he was almost 10, and you can save your judgment because his orthodontist said he was just fine.) With his Blankie in one hand, thumb in his mouth, Jackson was the quintessential Linus.
Even though Teddy isn’t a thumb sucker, he is very attached to his Blankie and shows no signs of letting it go any time soon — and that’s just fine with me.
Some parents feel the need to encourage their children to give up transitional objects like blankets and special stuffed animals, and I’m sure one of the factors is no longer wanting to deal with the hassle of keeping track of said security object.
And believe me, it is definitely a hassle. We have driven 40 minutes out of our way to retrieve a forgotten Blankie. I’ve asked more times than I can count, “Do you have your Blankie?” before leaving the house, only to double- and triple-check myself. I have spent hours searching for a lost Blankie — in the fridge, under beds, outside, under sinks, in the car, and in the garbage. (Yes, the garbage.)
But contrary to popular belief, security objects aren’t “babyish” and children who need them aren’t weak or insecure. On the contrary, the use of comfort objects has been shown to empower children to become more independent because they feel safer and more secure in uncomfortable situations, like starting preschool or sleeping away from home for the first time. In fact, studies show that kids with blankets, loveys, or other security objects are actually less shy and more focused than children who don’t use these things.
“Their lovey objects are like the first training wheels for telling themselves ‘you’re all right,’” wrote Anna Walters on Dose. “With a built-in sense of security, children feel safe enough to take small risks, explore and grow.”
Security objects also help children make connections outside of their parents by easing separation anxiety or making them more comfortable in new situations.
Parents often feel the need to apologize for their child’s security object, deeming it socially unacceptable or an inconvenience, but according to experts, one of the best things my husband and I might have done as parents was to not push our children to “give up” their Blankies before they were ready. Instead, we let them let go in their own sweet time.
“If the object thought to make one stronger and more resilient in the face of difference and trauma is removed or denied access to, it can actually create more anxiety and discourse,” wrote Colleen Goddard, an early childhood educator, in Psychology Today. “In fact, research indicates that those children who were deprived of object relations were often more susceptible to pathological disorders.”
Goddard went on to say that security objects can actually “enhance the connectedness between child and adult and amongst children themselves.”
The truth is we all — children and adults alike — have security objects whether we realize it or not. It might be our phone, wedding band, a favorite family photo, or a handkerchief at the bottom of our purse. According to therapist Mark Brenner, security objects for adults bring us back to “a place and time of great solace and memory.” They make us feel connected and present in the world; without them, we feel lost, confused, or out of sorts. These things aren’t a sign of weakness, but rather something that enables us to feel comfortable in a chaotic, unpredictable world.
Experts say that security blankets not only bridge the gap between comfortable situations like home and new things like school, but they also help facilitate the “emergence of a child’s inherent sense of self” — an important developmental milestone, and quite frankly, one that I’m still learning as an adult.
My younger son’s Blankie eventually arrived in the mail, and all was right in the world again. And even though I did sometimes wonder if my older son might actually take his Blankie with him to college, but he stopped using it just before he turned 10. It currently sits at the bottom of my nightstand drawer — where it will stay for…well, forever. Because even though he might not need it anymore, I still do.
And that’s just fine.