I’ve been wanting to write a post about comfort items for a few weeks now, and Phrogmum has spurred me on.
Donald Winnicott, one of my heros in the world of psychology, called comfort items “transitional objects” because they are a substitute for a mother’s love when mother is not available to the child.
I cannot emphasise the importance of comfort items enough, and I am surprised when parents tell me that their child does not have a comfort item.
They are important for children when they are stressed about separation from mum. Or when mum brings home a new baby. Little kids just don’t like sharing Mum. This is healthy, it means they have formed a bond with you. You’ve probably heard the analogy that for older siblings bringing another baby home, is like your husband bringing another wife home.
What parents often do, as patience wears thin, is start punishing the child for aggression towards the younger sibling. The punishment proves to the child that they need to work harder to get rid of that younger sibling, so he can have Mum all to himself again. The punishment, and perceived rejection, makes him angrier and feeling more hurt.
What is really needed is more love and care and nurture towards the aggressor. Encourage him to come to you for hugs when you see the first signs of agitation, talk to him about how he can ask for a hug if he is feeling insecure and stressed about little brother or sister.
If you are not readily available for a hug, (for example, you are nursing the younger child) encourage your older child to hug his comfort item. Make sure it is available all of the time. Comfort items are not just for bedtime. If he doesn’t have a comfort item, support him to choose one for himself and keep reinforcing that it is there for him to give him comfort. “Where’s your teddy/doll/blanky?”. “Give your teddy a hug.”
A boy I was working with in foster care, who jealously guarded his foster mum against his older brother, chose his spiderman suit as his comfort item. He was four years old at the time, and after many foster placement breakdowns he was not sharing this precious mum with anyone. I encouraged the foster carer to use a comfort item as the transitional object and it worked a treat. Kids are never too old for a comfort item. My eldest son (9 years) still loves his “doll doll” (and, yes, it is pink).
Some preschools and daycare centres ban comfort items, and that is just crazy, crazy stuff. If you are planning to put your child in one of these centres, think again. How much do they really understand about child development, and children’s emotional needs? Chances are they are dismissive about many of your child’s needs.
Here’s a tip: Carefully label the item, in case it is lost. Buy two of the same item, in case the original is irretrievably lost.