The Importance of Stuffed Animals and Security Blankets for Children
Why a soft stuffed animal could become your kid's best friend
Some children develop a strong attachment to a stuffed animal. For them, it is more than just a game.
Children who have a special relationship with a certain stuffed toy, actually develop a strong attachment to it that is not a game of "pretend." For them, the toy possesses soothing qualities seldom encountered anywhere else than in their mother's lap. In times of stress, contact with this toy calms them down. With the help of the toy, they're able to overcome otherwise emotionally charged situations, with ease. For them, it is more than just a toy.
The relationship between children and their stuffed animals has been scientifically studied for decades, with the most notable studies being performed in the 1950s by Donald Winnicott, a British Pediatrician and Psychologist. He observed that for some children, these toys would become "objects of attention" in the moments when they received non-maternal care, i.e., when they were left alone or in daycare. In the absence of the mother, the child would focus on the stuffed animal (or sometimes, in another inanimate object like a blanket) turning it into an object of affection. The assuredness provided by the contact with these toys can reduce the anxiety produced by a novel environment or even by a stressful event.
Winnicott believed, that in the absence of the mother, the stuffed animal would actually prevent the disintegration of her memory in the early stages of childhood. He coined the term **Transitional Object** and his theory was that children use these stuffed toys and objects of affection as coping mechanisms, for what they feel are stressful situations and environments. In particular, separation from their mothers and excessive time in daycare facilities, seem to trigger this need.
The mere presence of the stuffed animal seems to reassure the child in such a way that what would otherwise be a very stressful situation (being left in daycare for the whole day while the mother is at work) can be overcome without major emotional upheaval. In essence, the child brings along his stuffed animal -or whatever object of affection he possesses- with him and the separation anxiety produced by being away from his mother is diminished considerably if not altogether.
It has often been observed by caretakers and parents alike, that children often transfer their worries and fears to the stuffed animal. They will often comfort the toy as they would expect someone to comfort them. The same can be said of other emotionally-charged situations, such as parent fights, where sometimes the child would reenact the quarrel taking the place of one of the parents while the toy becomes the other.
A child focuses his affection in a certain object -generally a stuffed animal toy- during the first two years of his life; usually between the latter half of the first year and the first half of the second. It is unclear why some children form these bonds while others don't, but it is believed that those who do, experience greater emotional health than their counterparts.
The comfort provided by stuffed animals is no joke. Highway patrols and emergency vehicles are often equipped with stuffed animals to be given to traffic accident victims, for immediate comfort.
A more recent [study](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033092/), concludes that the more the child is apart from home, the stronger its bond with the stuffed animal. Children who attended full daycare, showed considerably more attachment to their stuffed animals than those who only attended part-time. It remains unclear why some children use this mechanism and others don't seem to need it. But it is clear that there are beneficial aspects that can be directly inferred from these objects, since they soothe and calm children that would otherwise experience considerable distress.
The bond between a child and a stuffed animal is not necessarily broken when the child reaches puberty. Many adults, while aware that their stuffed friends are not really endowed with any abilities of their own, continue to experience comfort in contact with these objects.
While the emotional connection between a child and his stuffed animal may start to fade away at age 9, it is not uncommon to find that it doesn't fade away easily, extending itself well into adulthood.
A 2012 [study](https://doi.org/10.1080/02673843.1987.9747625) mentions that several adolescents gave surprising replies to the question "tell me about your Teddy bear" One child explained that her bear had been a gift from a relative. She really loved this relative and the bear always reminded her of this person. She mentioned in so many words, that this person had always been very caring and dependable. The bear was therefore infused with those qualities and she said she loved it for that.
Another adolescent, mentioned that her elephant "Ollie" always listened. She said that it was always there for her and it gave her good advice when she needed it. She also mentioned that it was "cuddly."
Curiously enough, a recent [article](https://hbr.org/2011/09/adults-behave-better-when-teddy-bears-are-in-the-room) published in the Harvard Business Review, mentions that the presence of a stuffed animal, or a toy, is sometimes enough for adults to behave more ethically. It seems we're all better people in the presence of even the notion of a child.