Most people are familiar with Linus, Lucy’s younger, wiser brother, from the Peanuts comic strip. He’s a good-hearted child with a great love for his security blanket. He never goes anywhere without it and uses it almost like another limb. His older sister is in a constant battle to relieve him of the blanket and get him to grow up, but he clings to it tenaciously. Such reliance upon an item, that therapists call a “transitional item”, is very common in infants and toddlers and is, more surprisingly, an expert recommended way to provide self-solace during times of distress and pain. Getting a new comforter through Sleepy’s home delivery service could be more than just a stylish move, it could also be a therapeutic one.
According to early childhood experts, an infant’s attachment to a blanket, toy, or pacifier is a very natural and appropriate method of self-regulating anxiety and tension. To an infant, newborns especially, time is impossible to understand. Their mother is their entire world and when she leaves the room, even to just use the bathroom or answer a phone, a baby is incapable of realizing that mom will only “be just a minute” and often cry as soon as the only source of security for them is out of sight.
Because of this need to feel secure, it’s often recommended to provide an infant with a “transitional item” that will help them provide an emotional link between the feeling of security and the person they recognize as their security provider. This link can be built through snuggling.
Most people who are looking for comfort seek out the companionship of other people to help provide it. Infants are no different. They seek comfort through physical contact with a parent or caregiver. Snuggling is more than just a bonding activity, it is also the beginning place of self awareness. Most babies are between 2 and 3 months old before they realize that their caregiver is not the same person that they are, and the realization can be frightening. Regular time spent snuggling, with no other goal than to just be together, smiling, cooing, and talking to each other (even if one of you is only burbling and drooling!) helps to develop a strong sense of self and independence in an infant and throughout their childhood.
During these snuggles it is easy to introduce a transitional item and help an infant begin to associate the sense of security they have in a parent’s physical presence with an item such as a blanket, soft toy, or pacifier. With soft items it is easy to simply rub the plush material against the baby’s cheek, smile and talk with them, encourage them to grab hold of the material, and help them associate the feel of the blanket with the safety they feel in their parents arms. When the need arises to be out of the same room the item can then be introduced to the infant and they will naturally make the important developmental “transition” to self-awareness and self-comfort.
This ability to self-comfort and to find solace in an item that makes them feel secure is an important element to ensuring that an infant is on track to sleep through the night. Once a newborn has moved past the need to eat every few hours, waking and crying in the night is mostly associated with fear or anxiety. A security blanket can help an infant or toddler fall back to sleep on their own when they wake unexpectedly during the night, particularly if a parent offers them the security blanket or toy before picking them up right away. Many babies aren’t fully awake when they cry, and they only need a reassuring touch or item to help them fall back to sleep.
This ability to find comfort in an inanimate item can provide a sense of security and comfort to a child staying at a grandparents for the first time, going on vacation to a new place, starting a new school, or facing a stressful situation with friends or family. Too often we encourage our children to give up these items too soon. By empowering children to self-comfort with an item, particularly something as small as a blanket or toy, we are actually enabling them to find a healthy outlet for anxiety and fear.
So go ahead and snuggle those sweet babies. Wrap them up in a comfy blanket, or cuddle together in a soft comforter, telling funny stories and laughing together. Build solid family bonds and enhance the security they feel. You’ll both sleep better.
Images from beliefnet.com, shoptadpole.com, popsugar.com, and nashvilleparent.com