Saturday, March 9, 2013

Of Binkies & Blankies

(This article appears in the Saturday, March 9th edition of the Review Atlas, a GateHouse Media Company as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

You don't have to be a fan of the Peanuts comic strip to know about Linus and his blanket. The famous character was often drawn carrying his beloved, albeit tattered blanket.

If you take note at all the small children around you, chances are you will notice their love objects as well. 'Lovies' come in all shapes and sizes: blankets, pacifiers, stuffed animals, dolls and thumbs. How important are these objects of affections and what do parents need to know about them?

First, it is crucial to recognize that love objects are very important to small children and it is OK for parents to encourage this behavior. From birth infants have an innate need to suck. This action serves a twofold purpose.

Obviously this is how babies receive their nourishment but sucking can also be very soothing. This is why parents need to recognize the difference between crying for food and crying for comfort. Sometimes babies need to suck but don't need to eat. This is most noticeable when infants bring their fists to their mouth and suck on their hands. Of course all children have different temperaments and some babies need to suck more frequently than others.

Is the pacifier better or worse than the thumb? This age old question is highly debatable in many circles and often evokes strong emotions. Most professionals agree that thumb sucking under the age of four will not affect a child's permanent teeth. This is good news considering most oral habits are curbed by the time children reach school age when peer pressures begin.

Regardless, children who are capable of soothing themselves, whether it is by means of blankie, thumb or pacifier, grow up to be adults who transition better. Self-soothing is a technique that when nurtured in young children becomes a basic building block on how to deal with stresses in later in life.

Love objects are not bad nor are they are not babyish. Children will use these items of affection to help deal with stresses, frustration, anger or grief. It becomes a physical comfort that nourishes the soul and spirit.

Sometimes parents feel it is important to limit the amount of time or the number of places a love object go because it can be difficult for preschool age children to develop proper speech habits when they are carrying around a pacifier in their mouth or it becomes impractical to lug a stuffed animal to class. In these instances it may be necessary to wean a child from their object of affection.

Take note; weaning is only recommended to those parents who have a steel will. Crying, fit throwing and general hysteria can ensue when parents take lovies away. So be resolute in your reasoning for taking the item away or else you'll question yourself and probably cave at the onset of tears.

The good news is if you are patient enough, most children wean themselves. I mean, when is the last time you saw a high school senior graduate with a binkie in his mouth? This is one time you can be thankful for the positive aspect of peer pressure. The fear of a lovie being discovered is often enough to naturally deter the behavior.

our beloved Chinka

My third grader recently struggled with whether or not to take her beloved kitty, Chinka, to a sleep over. I suggested that if she really needed it she could hide the cat in her pillowcase. The risk of getting caught was too much and she chose to leave the animal at home. And she did fine!

A quick thinking friend of mine once got permission from her four year old to cut a pocket-sized corner off of a favorite blanket so her son could carry it everywhere he went. There were no more temper tantrums or embarrassing moments. His blanket was accessible and the solution worked for everyone involved.

That is until she lost it in the laundry, but that's a sad story for another day.

Just remember it may be necessary and totally normal for small children to need and want objects of security. We should never tease our sons and daughters for having such items. It is important to their mental health and social development to be able to have a lovie. After all, none of us like Linus less because he is a blanket carrier. It is part of what makes him so charming. I suggest you keep track of that lovie and remind yourself that a day will come when they will give it up. When they do, you might want to tuck it away in a memory box for future opportunities to embarrass the heck out of them. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so, that’s why!

Stephanie is a mother to five children and and a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District. Her services include home visits, baby groups and parent meetings.

We have a beloved cat at our house ... I'd love to hear from you! What lovies has your child attached themselves to and more importantly ... are you okay with that?

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