Why do kids sleep with teddy bears? Attachment to a comfort item like a teddy bear or a blanket is a normal part of childhood development. In my last blog, Part 1 of “Why Do Kids Sleep With Teddy Bears,” I explored the concepts of “sleep associations and “transitional objects.” Here, we’ll have a look at how transitional objects influence childhood development. Next time, I’ll show you how you can help him (or her) keep these attachments healthy, so he can let go of the object when he’s ready.
Transitional Objects and Childhood Development
“Transitional objects,” in the parlance of child psychology, are objects that help a child transition from being fully dependent on parents for comfort to being able to self-soothe when life’s little bumps arise—and one of those bumps is bedtime. Psychologist Donald Winnicott introduced the concept, suggesting that such objects help a child learn the idea of “not me” and separate self from parent, beginning around the age of 4 or 6 months.
As kids mature, they may continue to seek solace in transitional objects for several years. Putting a child to bed with a blanket or stuffed animal that they find comforting can help them build positive sleep associations with those objects, so that they can feel comfortable and drowsy in a warm bed with familiar items, even when Mom is soundly asleep herself in the next room.
Cherishing a beloved transitional object is just one of a range of normal “comfort habits,” child psychologist Penelope Leach wrote for Baby Center. According to Leach, these comfort habits help a child to soothe herself in a manner that is fully within her control—while Mom and Dad, Brother and Sister may not be. They help a child learn to self-soothe, and most of the time the habits disappear as the child matures and internalizes self-soothing through thought more than action.
Sometimes, the attachment to transitional objects like teddy bears can outlive its usefulness. In my next blogs on “Why Do Kids Sleep With Teddy Bears?”, we’ll explore ways to help a child keep those attachments healthy, and list some warning signs that something else may be wrong.