Photo: @Bymariapia via Instagram
Lisa Brown* knows the benefits of her five-year-old son’s long-term relationship with his loveys: They comfort Ben in times of stress, soothe him to sleep and give him confidence when he needs a boost. But her husband wonders if Ben is getting too old to be dragging around his beloved monkey, among other stuffies.
A four- or five-year-old with a lovey isn’t cause for concern, says Lynne Reside, a former early childhood educator and director of communication for the Board of Early Childhood Educators in North Okanagan, BC. She says it’s typical for children in junior or senior kindergarten to still have loveys. “You might be concerned if a 10-year-old is walking around with a blankie, but from a developmental perspective, a five-year-old taking one to school isn’t a big deal,” she says.
On the whole, loveys—blankets or stuffed animals also known as comfort objects or transitional objects—are considered a positive part of development.
“A comfort object helps children learn self-regulation and calming skills. The lovey helps them feel more secure during separations from parents,” says Michelle Ponti, a London, Ont., paediatrician.
This fondness for a lovey or blanket usually begins to solidify around the one-year mark, because it’s often a time of major change. You might be going back to work after parental leave, and your child could be weaning, starting daycare or spending more time with a babysitter. It’s normal for the bond with Mr. Bear to continue well into the toddler years and beyond, and it’s common for the attachment to intensify as other changes in routine come up. (A family vacation may bring new surroundings, different food and sleeping in a strange bed, for example.) Starting preschool or JK could leave kids clinging to their loveys more than ever.
Although a preschooler’s bond with that special bear, bunny or blankie is nothing to worry about, it can pose a few challenges. For one, many teachers discourage having them in the classroom. “There’s a risk of toys being lost or damaged and concerns about hygiene when stuffed animals or blankets are brought to school,” says Reside, who has worked with kids (from babies up to age six) in daycares and Early Years community programs. Some kids are comfortable leaving Mr. Bear in the car for the day or keeping their lovey stashed in a backpack. “Ben was begging to take his monkey to school when he started JK because he used to have it at daycare, but we don’t let him,” says Brown. She and her husband have restricted lovey use to couch cuddles and bedtime.
Brown’s biggest worry isn’t how often her son reaches for his monkey blankie—it’s what he does with it. “He sucks on the corner of the fabric, so we’re concerned it’s just like a thumb-sucking issue,” she says. It could affect his dental health, agrees Ponti. “This almost puts the lovey in the category of soothers, which can pose a problem with the eruption of teeth.” If your child does this, consider consulting a paediatric dentist. And if he’s mouthing something that isn’t cleaned often, germs are inevitable.
Social embarrassment is much more common at this age than dental health issues, says Ponti. Teasing could make parting with a favourite stuffie more difficult (or easier, depending on your kid’s personality).
Parents can feel the peer pressure as well, and inadvertently transfer this onto their child. “Personally, I don’t care if my son takes the decrepit monkey to college, but my husband thinks it’s ‘for babies,’” says Brown.
Don’t let your own hang-ups play too big a role. “Remove or reduce the use of a lovey only if there’s a health concern,” says Reside. “The world is still a big, new place for little kids, and they need to be allowed the time and tools to mature at their own rate.”
* Name has been changed.
EXPERT TIP: Buy an identical backup stuffie or blankie, if you can. This allows you to rotate in a clean one while the other is in the wash, and it’ll prevent your kid from melting down (and you from scrambling) when the lovey is inevitably lost or misplaced. (Some loveys even come in packs of three for this very reason.)