Many young ones are known to form strong attachments to inanimate objects, such as a security blanket or a soft toy. These aren’t just toys kids insist on lugging around, but are what experts call “transitional objects.” A transitional object can be key in early child development, specifically for a kid’s emotional support.
The objects are labeled as “transitional” because they aid children as they make the emotional transition from dependence to independence.
The American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology describes them as something “spontaneously chosen and used by a child to ease the anxiety of separation from his or her first external object, the mother.” The transitional object represents the mother until the child establishes a mental representation — “an internal object” — that provides a sense of security and comfort.
How Do Transitional Objects Work?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), transitional objects work for young children because they physically feel good to them. Children usually choose a blanket or stuffed animal, which are soft, cuddly, and nice to touch. They offer a source of familiarity to children and usually hold familiar scents to it, like the child’s or their parents’.
Transitional objects can help children brace themselves in unfamiliar situations: sleeping alone, going to daycare, meeting a new caretaker, or going to the doctor.
The AAP recommends that parents help introduce transitional objects to their children early on and build it into their nighttime rituals. When children display symptoms of anxiety, place the transitional object near them to encourage them to use it for comfort.
Parents are also encouraged to introduce more than one transition object for the child, whether they are copies of one another or just similar. If one gets lost, there’s an easy replacement. Or, parents can avoid upsetting their children when it comes time to wash one transitional object because they have another to use.