Five-year-old Amelie got into my makeup and thus, her "Doggy" got an unfortunate makeover. Luckily a trip through the washing machine returned "him" to normal.
If you are wondering why Doggy looks like a monkey and not at all like a dog... Well, Amelie named Doggy when she was a young toddler and ALL animals were “doggies.” Amelie is nearly six now but her monkey remains a “doggie.” Only “he” got named Jack a while back… but in moments of stress, he is called Doggy again.
Doggy has special significance for us because my mother gave him to me before Calliope was born. Calliope never needed a transitional object because she twiddled her ear for comfort (along with sucking her thumb). So when Amelie was born, Amelie inherited the love object, and unlike Calliope, Amelie quickly grew attached.
My mother died just before I successfully conceived Amelie. I had been trying to get pregnant with frozen embryos as my mother was dying of cancer and so I was able to tell my mother that her future grandchild, if a girl, would be named after her. (My mother's name was Amy, and she was named for her grandfather, Emil,)
Doggy is Amelie's one gift from her grandmother.
What are transitional objects and how do they help?
A “transitional object” is a physical item, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, that represents an extension of a young child’s primary caregiver. It reminds the child of the warmth, love, and security he or she feels in the presence of the primary caregiver. It allows the child to separate from a parent with less distress.
Transitional objects can be a huge help for children who resist separation, particularly at bedtime. It's normal for children to fear separation from their beloved grown ups, and it's also normal that their grown ups need that separation to function.
Particularly if your child is dependent on your physical touch to fall asleep, consider introducing a transition object. If your child is mobile, you can let them choose which they would like to sleep with. For a younger child, you may have to choose for them -- ask your pediatrician when it is safe to introduce one. The American Academy of Pediatrics says nothing in the crib before 12 months but your healthcare provider may say earlier is acceptable. It should be large enough to not be a choking risk and small enough to not be a smothering risk.
You may wish to slide the love object between you during bedtime snuggles, or even put it inside your shirt to acquire your scent. You can tell your child, "Lovey will keep you safe all night long." Don't be afraid to create a dependence on the love object. It's much healthier for a child to be dependent on a transitional object than on you for the small stresses of daily life. It's not a substitute for you, it's in addition to you. This is one sleep crutch that you actually want to have.
Most loveys are adopted during infancy but don't be afraid to try to create one into the preschool years.
Also, if you are afraid your child will never outgrow their dependency on the love object, don't be. Some children outgrow it gradually and others reject the love object seemingly overnight. All children outgrow their dependence sooner or later. One piece of advice though: acquire duplicates as soon as your child has identified a favorite love object! Rotate them regularly so the child doesn't have a preference. And keep the beloved love object safe at home and use a back-up for daycare and outings.
I actually threw away Doggy's duplicate before Amelie was born, since Calliope wasn't interested in it. And now I can't find an identical lovey. I live in fear of the day that Doggie gets lost -- he gets misplaced occasionally and we all feel terror as we search! Don't make my mistake.
Also, some children adopt "lovies" that are nontraditional. If your child loves bringing a favorite truck to bed, not a problem! Other children like carrying a cloth diaper around, or an item of a parent's clothing. Whatever creates a feeling of security in your child is perfect.
If your child is resisting separation at bedtime, set up a free chat to discuss how we can get your family the sleep you deserve.
Abby Wolfson is a pediatric nurse practitioner, certified child sleep consultant and former NICU nurse. She divides her time between Brooklyn, NY and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.