At school, we have a “no toy” policy but this is probably the one rule we are most flexible around. Every morning we start our day at school by negotiating with our children to put the toys that they brought from home away until the end of the day. It is important to understand why children bring toys and why they tend to be attached to a specific toy. Transitional objects are very common in the baby and toddler phase, some children never get attached to them, others do. There is no reason to be concerned about it. Let’s unpack transitional objects and why it is important to understand where it comes from.
What is a transitional object?
When babies reach the age of 9 months, they start to realize that parents are not always available for comfort and that they need a backup when mom or dad is not available for a snuggle.
They attach to objects like soft toys or blankets. This varies from child to child and it can even be an everyday item like a wooden spoon that becomes their “comfort on the go” item. This object is their way of creating some sense of safety and reassurance in all circumstances that are familiar or unfamiliar to them. These objects are incredibly valuable in assisting children to become more independent and help to ease their anxiety when separating from you.
It is important to take note that not all children will get attached to an object and that is also perfectly fine.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind;
Have a spare or duplicate of the object
It is advisable to have a spare in the cupboard. This is helpful when you need to wash it or when one gets lost. It will save you and your little one unnecessary emotional trauma.
If it is a blanket, you can cut it in half and put the other piece away for emergencies.
Wash the object as regularly as possible
We understand that this is much easier said than done. Children hold on to this item 24/7 but it is important to understand why it needs to be washed. Children will get attached to the smell and texture and when it is washed it will not have the same texture or smell anymore. You want them to get used to the smell and feel of a clean one rather than a dirty one. Try to wash it as often as possible and call in the spare if needed.
It is not a tool to use for punishment
When a child has misbehaved and a form of punishment is given, please don’t take away their transitional object. This object creates a massive sense of safety and when you take it away as a form of punishment, it will cause unnecessary anxiety and distress.
Start a routine of having the object only at home
We understand that often getting your toddler to agree to come to school, you have to pack their teddy bear or firetruck. Start a routine for your child to leave the object in the car. When you drop them off, allow them to place them in the boot of the car and say goodbye until later. This will also assist them in understanding that home and school work differently and have different rules.
Be realistic about timelines
Don't feel the need to rush children to detach from the items they find comfort in. By the age of 5, children will start detaching as their peers don't bring soft toys anymore. They will benefit from a reminder that they are big and brave and that they don't need the item anymore. Be kind towards your child and don’t just take the object away, rather gradually over time prepare them for the day that they won’t be needing the object anymore.
It is important to keep in mind that this phase of your child’s development will pass by much quicker than we think. Let’s give them the tools they need to learn how to cope with the unpredictable world around them.