Inside: When you were a child did you have a strong attachment to a special blanket or a favorite toy? Do any of your children have similar attachments? Do these special objects act as security blankets? Security toys? And what is a security blanket? Here’s what science says about reasons children treasure their blankets.
My granddaughter is three years old. This little girl has a favorite blue and white muslin blanket that extends back three generations to her great-grandmother. She fell in love with this blanket the moment her mother swaddled her in it as a baby.
She takes it everywhere and when she goes outside she wants it wrapped around her head like a scarf. Cherished to death, it is now in pieces. But she continues to carry around those pieces and will not go to sleep unless one is clenched tightly in her little fist.
Are there reasons some children get attached to a certain security blanket or toy, while others do not? What is a security blanket? What do child development experts say?
4 Reasons Children Treasure Their Blankets
#1: Security Blankets and Toys Contain Essence of Original Owner
First, a security blanket or toy is any object a baby or child is attached to and wants close to them.
Studies suggest that a child’s affection for certain blankets or toys might be triggered by the belief that certain objects have invisible properties or contain some essence of their original owner. This attachment and affection are similar to adults who are nostalgic for certain heirlooms or other memorabilia.
As I’ve watched my granddaughter grow more and more attached to her “towel,” (as she calls it) I can’t help but feel that the threads of this blanket have woven together hearts of love between a great-grandmother and her great-granddaughter. And like studies suggest, she feels the essence (or spirit) of her great-grandmother in, what is now, a tattered piece of cloth.
#2: Security Blankets and Toys are Transitional Objects
Growing up I had a teddy bear that I loved. My brother Howard was “glued” to his stuffed teddy bear, and my sister Jeannette’s yellow blanket was her constant companion. My nephew Mikel took his favorite childhood blanket to college. Melissa, my daughter-in-law still has her beloved purple blanket from childhood.
Child development experts call these favorite companions, “transitional objects,” meaning they help children transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar and from dependence to independence. An illustration of this is when my nephew left for an unfamiliar college and took his familiar blanket with him and me dragging my teddy bear with me every time I went someplace new.
Other child psychologists believe that these security blankets offer an emotional benefit to a child as they wean from breastfeeding, thus transitioning from dependence to becoming more independent from their mother.
My Beloved Teddy Bear: A Transitional Object
I loved my teddy bear. He was an Algy rubber-faced teddy bear with light brown fur and blue eyes that I could open and shut (which was considered rare for 1950s teddy bears). He was the first hypo-allergenic teddy bear that Ideal Toy Company made.
In the 1950s there was a television program called Miss Francis’s Ding Dong School (a precursor to Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s without all the bells and whistles). This Algy bear was the featured teddy bear on the program.
I don’t remember the specifics of why I loved my teddy bear— I just did. I dragged him around the house and slept with him every night. Clearly, he was that “transitional object,” because whenever I went to my grandparents to stay overnight, my teddy bear was the first thing I packed in my suitcase.
Maybe watching my granddaughter with her blanket has triggered happy memories of me and my bear.
#3: Security Blankets and Toys: Part of Bedtime Rituals
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that particular blankets and toys are an important part of a child’s bedtime ritual. Many children carry that special blanket or toy to bed with them each night and refuse to go to sleep unless those things are by their side.
Special blankets and toys provide comfort and security to a child throughout the night. If they wake up during the night, many children will reach for their security blankets or toy, find them, and quickly go back to sleep.
Bedtime rituals that include security blankets and toys are talked about in children’s literature. In the children’s book, Ira Sleeps Over, Ira is excited to spend the night at his friend’s house but worries about being teased because he still sleeps with his teddy bear. To his relief, Ira finds that his friend also has a favorite bear that he sleeps with.
What could have been an embarrassing moment for Ira has a happy ending as both boys fall to sleep with their teddy bears in tow.
#4: Security Blankets Offer Comfort to Children
Have you noticed when you take your child to a strange or unfamiliar place, or into a new situation, they insist on carrying their blanket with them? Or when the lights go out in their bedroom at night, they hug their toy or “blanky” even closer?
These can be scary situations for a child and to have a security blanket or object close by brings them comfort. The American Academy of Pediatrics concurs: special blankets or toys can be an important part of childhood and can bring comfort and security to its owner.
Hospitals today recognize that many children love having a blanket with them for those scary or stressful times during their stay. Many hospitals have adopted a program called, “Project Linus,” a nonprofit effort that gives sick children security blankets to provide a source of comfort for them.
Let Your Child Have These Security Blankets and Toys for as Long as Needed
Whatever the reasons your child loves a particular blanket or stuffed animal, the experts agree: let your child have these objects as long as they want. They need them for a reason, if for nothing else but to remind them of happy childhood memories.
It does not mean your child is insecure or has other issues. They just simply have an attachment to something they love and treasure.
Linking Generations: Mitochondrial Eve
I’ve often wondered if there is a deeper connection between my granddaughter and her great-grandmother. Perhaps a connection at a cellular level. It seems that there could be…
Like the threads of a blanket mysteriously linking a great-grandchild to her great-grandmother, science now sheds light on the thread that links generations together.
That thread is a mother’s mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the powerhouse or energy of our cells and contain 13 genomes (genetic material) which are passed down from a mother to her child. They contain their own genetic material distinct from the cell’s DNA.
But, only a daughter can pass her mother’s mitochondria to the next generation. If a mother only has sons, (as in my case) her mitochondrial genes are lost.
Because of the mitochondria in our genes, scientists say that it is possible to trace our lineage back through our ancestors to Eve, the original mother of us all.
Using this information, Bryan Sykes, a world-renowned geneticist wrote a book, The Seven Daughters of Eve, where he identifies and traces the world’s population back to the first woman calling her “Mitochondrial Eve.”
Here he poetically links us from our mothers to Eve by tracing this ancestral connection from one woman to all her children:
“I am on stage. Before me, in the dim light, all the people who have ever lived are lined up rank upon rank, stretching far into the distance. I have in my hand the end of the thread which connects me to my ancestral mother…I pull on the thread and one woman’s face in every generation, feeling the tug, looks up at me. These are my ancestors. These are all my mothers who passed this precious messenger [mitochondrial DNA] from one to another through a thousand births, a thousand screams, a thousand embraces of a thousand newborn babies. The thread becomes an umbilical cord.”
Special Blankets and Toys: Family Connections
My granddaughter’s blanket is made of one continuously long thread, a sort of umbilical cord that symbolically unites her to three generations of women: her mother, her maternal grandmother, and her maternal great-grandmother.
Like Mitochondrial Eve, it represents a simple connection to family.
What is the story of your favorite blanket or toy? Or your child’s favorite blanket or toy? Perhaps, like my granddaughter’s blanket, there is special meaning in those objects that connect you to something larger.
Or like my teddy bear, it is just something to love.
- Don’t forget these special companions from childhood
- Write the stories down
- Take photographs
- They may be symbols of priceless bonds
A child’s security blanket.
A child’s toy.
Meaningful objects of childhood. Cherished heirlooms. Treasured connections.
You can access the 2-minute video here