Healthy Kids    

Child Behavior: Your child’s security blanket: keep it or toss it?

Maybe Linus was on to something


 Charles Schulz is gone, but the Peanuts characters remain an enduring part of the American culture. We are all familiar with Charlie Brown’s anxieties and insecurities and Lucy’s rigid, impatient, overbearing manner. Of all the Peanuts characters, Linus is the most comfortable with himself. Could there be something to the blanket he carries with him at all times? What is it about the “blanket” and other special objects that have the ability to soothe and comfort children so easily?

Parents are often concerned that their child’s attachment to a security blanket is a sign that their child has an attachment issue and they did something wrong early in the child’s development, or that their child has excessive fears or anxieties and that’s why the child is so attached. Some parents also believe that being attached to a blanket is a sign of maladjustment and they should discourage the practice as quickly as they can.

Children attached to security blankets have no more attachment issues and are no more anxious or fearful than non-blanket attached children. Research appears to indicate that not only is it a normal part of development, it may be desirable for a child to have this soothing transitional object.

The term “transitional object” was coined by the famous psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott to refer to the child’s first “outside of the self” possession. Winnicott suggested that these transitional objects help a child defend against the tension and anxiety that arise in the child’s life and are particularly important at bedtime, around strangers, and in new situations.

Transitional objects are usually something soft and cuddly like a blanket or a fuzzy stuffed animal that the child can hold close to her face. Children seem to need one most when they are experiencing something new, at bedtime, or anytime they are separated from their mother. (Note: I use the term mother throughout this column; however, this could be any primary caretaker for the child.)

Although these comfort objects are usually soft and cuddly, at different stages of development a comfort object might even be non-cuddly object like a dump truck or other favorite toy. The age at which these objects are discarded may vary as well. Most children give up their security blankets upon the entrance to school, though some teenagers have been known to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal and even people in nursing homes may be comforted when given a stuffed animal. To be reminded of a simpler, more secure time of life appears endemic to any age.

Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh.