For many young children, the transition from being cared for at home to attending daycare or preschool can be a time of anxiety. It’s a time when they take their first steps into the unknown of the big wide world, and a time when they’re challenged outside their comfort zone, perhaps for the first time.
At times like these, special objects, whether it be a blanket, a cuddly toy, or even an item of clothing that smells like mum, can help.
In fact, according to the New York University Psychoanalytical Institute, “The transitional object may be conceived of in three ways: as typifying a phase in a child's development, as a defense against separation anxiety, and, lastly, as a neutral sphere in which experience is not challenged”.
As a mum to a three-and-a-half-year-old son, I can certainly relate to this. Since around the age of 18 months, my son developed a bond with his blanket that is second to none. Blanket goes everywhere with him. It’s the first thing he reaches for when he’s sad, happy, scared, or even angry. And it’s been more than a comfort to him in times when he has seriously hurt himself.
Blanket offers him something that seemingly no one or nothing else can. It is, without a doubt, his security, safety net, and constant reassurance when he’s at preschool or away from home.
Ericka Fraser has a similar situation with her daughter Ruby and a particular cuddly toy called Lamby. “Lamby offers Ruby comfort whenever she hurts herself or gets upset,” says Ericka. “It’s one of the first things she will look for.”
More recently, Lamby has returned with Ruby to care as she transitions from the toddler room at daycare to preschool. “Ruby decided to leave Lamby at home when she moved into kindy because she said she didn't need him anymore, as she was a big girl,” explains Ericka. “But when they moved her into the preschool room she was separated from her best friend, and the only thing that made her happy to go was for Lamby to go with her. Now Lamby goes all the time.”
According to Karen White, kindergarten teacher at Kool Kidz Childcare Childcare in Melbourne, this behaviour is extremely common. She says around nine out of 10 children will bring some kind of comforter with them to care.
“Bringing a comforter to care is great in assisting a child to settle in more quickly, and making them feel like they belong in the environment,” explains White. “It offers a smoother transition into a new environment which can be overwhelming, and can provide an escape to somewhere where they feel safe until trusting relationships are built with the educators in the room.”
This feeling of security, which comes in establishing trusting relationships, is similar to the feeling the child has with their comforter.
“Feeling secure is part of the child and who they are, and it’s that feeling that helps promote self-worth and confidence, and ultimately encourages the child to have better autonomy, resilience and independence – all of which are integral parts of a child being able to be actively involved in their community.”
White also explains that children who bring comforters from home don’t necessarily represent particular personality types – that is, not just shy kids have special items.
“Surprisingly, even the most confident children will often have comforters for settling into care, at sleep time, or if they’re feeling particularly upset,” she says. “It’s something that’s part of who the child is, no matter what their personality.”
So is this something childcare educators like White would encourage?
“Allowing children to bring a comforter is a good thing because it tells the child that we respect them and who they are, and their wellbeing is most important to us,” says White. “I definitely encourage children to bring a comforter with them, particularly at the beginning of their childcare journey.
“It’s something that educators and families can work in partnership with in order to get the child feeling comfortable, confident and safe in the environment.”
Ultimately, the vast majority of children will grow out of their attachment to their special object. While some will keep their scrap of ratty blanket or much loved toy on a shelf for decades to come as a touch of nostalgia or even a mild source of comfort, most will eventually relegate it to a box of old, forgotten items – only for you to swoop and in save it as a reminder of the beloved item they used to turn to when they needed it most.