(this article appears in the 7/12/11 edition of the Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)
Chinka is life sized, white, stuffed cat and she is my six-year-old’s lovey. Chinka is filthy, ragged, old and missing a nose. She’s literally been loved till it hurts. Chinka is also precious and extremely imperative to my daughter’s healthy sleeping habits (and mine by association)!
If you’re a parent you understand what I am talking about. Some studies indicate that almost 70% of all children have become attached to a special doll, animal, pacifier or blanket and child development experts say that it is a healthy habit.
Many parents worry that children who are attached to loveys are showing signs of stress or anxiety but actually the opposite is true. Most children use their items of affection as a transitional tool, that is, it becomes a way to help them cope during stressful situations. When mom or dad must leave for work, for example, a lovey can offer reassurance during that difficult goodbye. Many children rely on special blankets and stuffed animals particularly during the night as a way to cope from being away from their parents while sleeping.
Experienced moms have duplicate loveys in case one ever goes missing but this plan can often backfire as parents usually have no influence over what item becomes a favorite. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children choose for themselves a security item between the ages of eight and twelve months. That means parents must be crafty and observe when a child is showing signs of attachment. It’s the smart ones that go out and buy four backup blankies in case one ever gets misplaced.
If only it were that easy.
Most children intuitively believe their animal or blankie posses a unique essence or life force. Your child may or may not understand that their item is not alive but regardless they will treat it as if it is. Which is why I have never been able to pull off a successful bait and switch when Chinka goes missing.
Interestingly, a study done at the University of Bristol in March of 2007 found that children can tell the difference between their lovey and an exact replica. In the experiment children ages 3-6 years old were asked to bring their attached item to a lab where they were shown a copier cabinet that could duplicate any item put inside. In one box a green block was placed and within moments a second, identical block appeared in a neighboring cabinet. Children were then asked if they would place their item in the cabinet. Of the 22 children who did have attachment objects, four stubbornly refused to allow them to be copied at all. Of the 18 who did let their precious items be copied only five opted to keep the "duplicate".
All this information is a very, sharp double-edged sword. It means parents who have children with loveys don’t have to worry that their children are showing signs of some sort of psychological turmoil unless of course that very same item should ever become lost…which of course it will. I know because my whole world has shifted on it’s axis once or twice when Chinka has been missing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (I wonder; do they have kids?) remind us that security blankets are just a natural part of growing up and will eventually be given up. The only trauma comes when we tease our children about their item of affection or pressure them to let go of them before they are ready.
So good luck mom and dad. I hope you never experience the neuroticism that comes when your child becomes attached to a lovey. I hope you never loose it, accidentally wash it or sell it at a garage sale. And God forbid if you do ….well, you too can join my club and kiss your sweet dreams goodbye. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!