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Rebecca Chicot PhD
Child development expert with a Phd from Cambridge University. She has worked on several best-selling books and BBC documentaries. She is the proud mother of three children.
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Child mental health & wellbeing

Should my child give up their comforter?

Comforters are soft toys or blankets that some children like to cuddle when they need reassurance. They can also be used as a magic helper when children are tired, poorly or have hurt themselves. Comforters can also be really helpful to take along if children have to do something on their own, without their parents, and need a literal and metaphorical security blanket.
In Short
Using a comforter or 'transistional object' is a big emotional milestone and marks your child's ability to self soothe and seek comfort when you are not available.

Most nurseries and preschools let children bring their comforter as they settle in.

If your child has a favourite soft toy, try to get back up copies in case it gets lost or needs a wash.

Transitional objects and the emotional function of comforters

As babies begin to develop emotionally and cognitively, they become increasingly aware that they are an individual and that their parents are sometimes unavailable to comfort them immediately. Whilst babies, toddlers and children need their care givers to be emotionally available to them, toddlers and older children are also able to receive comfort from cuddling a teddy or blanket. This use of a comforter is an important milestone in your child’s development as she becomes able to use a comforter as a way of ‘self soothing.’ Psychologists refer to them as ‘transitional objects’ as children transfer the role of a secure base from their parent to an inanimate object that they have with them. Comforters have a powerful ability to make children feel more secure.

Comforters can also be such a powerful trigger of sleep that some children will instinctively yawn and snuggle to sleep when they are handed their comforter or teddy bear. Also, when a child comes into a light sleep, if their comforter is with them, they may begin to use the comforter to touch base and then return to sleep. This means they are less likely to need you to soothe them back to sleep and may drop off more quickly when they wake in the night.

Comforters are a great prop in your child’s toolkit and help her to cope with uncertainty, anxiety, pain and fear. One of the drawbacks is that if your child becomes upset at times when she cannot have her comforter (e.g. it has become lost or isn’t with them), she may get very wound up and more distressed than she would have otherwise.

Are comforters a sign of weakness?

Try not to worry about your child being devoted to a teddy or a blanket. This deep attachment to a comforter is very common and most children tend to reduce the time they rely on their comforter as they get older.

As long as constantly holding the teddy or blanket isn’t stopping your child from playing and leading a happy, energetic life, don’t worry too much.

Most children grow out of having a comforter with them at all times, but there is no time when a loved teddy bear should be consigned to the bin. What tends to happen is that they stay on your child’s bed, and as she get older and more self-conscious she might choose to put the comforter away or even hand it on.

Not surprisingly, children can become very attached to their comforter – as hundreds of parents learn to their woe if their child’s beloved teddy bear gets lost or lands in a puddle and needs to go in the washing machine. Doctors and psychologists know the important role of these comforters, and when children are admitted to hospital it is one of the facts that is recorded about the child – so all medical staff know the name and description of the little patient’s comforter.
Taking comforters to preschool and school

Most nurseries, preschools, and early years educators are sensitive to a child’s need to bring her comforter with her, especially during settling in. Children use comforters as a prop to help support their internal emotional resources and resilience to manage a situation – and this should be encouraged. When your child can use a comforter when you are not there, it is one of the first examples of emotional self-regulation. It can be a stepping-stone to help your child cope with fears and anxieties that they face without you each day.

In time, the comforter can be left in the ‘precious box’ or a bag on your child’s peg for special situations like a grazed knee. Soon many children are happy to wait until they get home to cuddle their teddy.

As a parent, you can use similar tactics if you are out and about. Instead of taking the comforter everywhere (where it can be easily lost) it can instead travel in the car or your bag, so your child isn’t constantly carrying it around. Parents need to be sensitive to their child and their needs and judge how best to manage this and not be motivated by their fear of judgement by other adults.

Top Tip: As soon as your toddler or baby falls in love with a particular teddy or soft toy you should get several versions so they can be rotated and your toddler is not bereft if the teddy bear gets lost or needs washing.
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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.