Special cuddle toys or blankets (also known as a “blanky”, “lovey,” a “stuffie,” or, in our household a “ruggie”) play an important role in a young child’s world. They provide psychological comfort, physical distraction and help ease anxiety.
In academic circles, these items are called “transitional objects” as they’re thought to act as a stand-in for the mother-child bond. Young infants are not born with a sense of self, instead considering themselves and their mother as one. Transitional objects can help infants ease the transition from dependence (mother and child as one) to relative independence (having a sense of “me”).
Stuffed toys are inherently soothing because they offer a highly sensory experience. Often children are very selective about the feel and smell of their chosen object, unwilling to swap it out for something else, no matter how similar.
Interestingly, back in the 1940s, researchers thought a child’s attachment to a toy or stuffed animal was due to a lack of attachment between mother and child. We now know that the opposite of this is true.
Children who are attached to a stuffed animal or other object are more securely attached, happy, and content. They view their chosen object as a reminder of the love and attachment that their caregiver provides, not a replacement for one who is lacking.
The only real downside to having a special object is that children are often VERY attached to it. This means that losing it can be very hard on them. A good tip is to have multiple of them that are in regular rotation (so as not to be rejected for not smelling or feeling ‘right’). We have 5 ruggies (pictured) for our little one. Having spares is handy, especially if their main squeeze needs a trip to the washing machine, or gets left behind at grandma’s house.
Did you have a special toy or blanket as a child? Does your own child have one now? These special toys often have such rich and lovely stories behind them. Let us know yours in the comments!
References: Passman & Halonen 1979, Fortuna et al 2014; Kalpidou 2011; Yamagouchi & Moriguchi 2020